City deals, growth deals (outside city areas) and smart specialisations in the UK and Europe have been rolled-out in recognition that aspatial policy and funding frameworks do not deliver for all.
These placed-based policies for economic development, collaboratively developed from the bottom up by local stakeholders, give regions and cities hope for a brighter future. For national cohesion and prosperity, regions and cities cannot be left behind.
Universities are recognised as anchor institutions for their regions and are a driving force behind many of the initiatives.
Australia has just started to follow the international models and can learn much from these examples.
City and growth deals are collaborative agreements between the major regional players – all levels of government, regional development bodies, business, universities, vocational training providers, and other key stakeholders – that commit to a vision and priorities for development for an area. The initiatives may build on existing regional advantages or business strengths, or seek to develop expertise in areas of growing need.
Universities are politically neutral, bring disparate parties together, and are brokers and facilitators. They can use their knowledge, research and connections, including in the international context, to inspire a vision for development for the local city or region.
Innovation is an important part of many of the deals. When packaged in the context of regional development, innovation is seen as a positive force for jobs and growth and not the source of disruption and job loss.
In Australia, universities are participating in some of the first city deals, including Launceston, Townsville and western Sydney.
In its National Regional Higher Education Strategy Framework, released in late 2017, the Regional Universities Network (RUN), a group of six regionally headquartered universities, has called for greater recognition of the place-based role of regional universities in government policy and programs. As well as supporting specific plans for particular cities or regions, RUN supports the adoption of a place-based approach in existing tertiary and secondary education, research and innovation policies and programs to enhance their delivery in the regions.
This update was kindly provided by Dr Caroline Perkins, Executive Director, Regional Universities Network, who presented at the 2017 Australian Regional Development Conference.