DeltaLecture 6: Knowledge Clusters
Philip McCann On Unlocking The Potential Of Knowledge Clusters
What do universities and knowledge clusters mean to a region or city? That question was explored during DeltaLecture 6 organized by Free University in Amsterdam and the Deltametropolis Association. This time the international guest invited was Philip McCann, Professor of Economics at the University of Waikato and Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Groningen.
In his article ‘Universities, Agglomerations and Graduate Human Capital Mobility’, he describes how only certain types of higher education institutions play a significant employment role in their local economies. The main question addressed here is what higher education means to a city or region. What are the real socio-economic benefits of knowledge clusters? And what does it take to unlock the potential of universities?
Does knowledge matter?
McCann started his lecture by emphasizing the general importance of higher education. In all countries around the world higher education leads to better health, higher life satisfaction and more economic growth. Randstad Holland (RSH) has six universities in the leading top 200 universities of the world (source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2011-12). from a regional perspective that looks like a significant knowledge cluster, but do knowledge clusters really matter?
Big cities big ideas
Knowledge is also a good that tends to spatially concentrate. In Europe R&D investments are concentrated in two European core regions. But also inside all different EU countries the regional differences are huge. In the first decade of globalization, this concentration effect was immense. However, since 2002 a spreading effect has taken place that mid-sized cities within the reach of global cities have taken advantage of.
To better unlock the potential of knowledge institutes, policy should focus on connectivity rather than on top level performances, explains McCann. As soon as universities, companies and other knowledge institutions work together the productivity in a region will increase most. To increase the societal footprint of knowledge policy, governments should not invest in the top of segments but rather in embedding knowledge in different levels of society. McCann calls this the ‘Walmart effect’ of knowledge clustering. Walmart made new digital innovation accessible to all kinds of businesses. This vision opposes the tendency to go for the so-called Silicon Valley-effect, which strongly focuses on innovation clustering within one particular top sector.