Higher Education for Smart Specialisation: The Case of the Northern Netherlands

Publication article | | Paul Benneworth, Eskarne Arregui-Pabollet

This technical report presents the findings of the case study carried out in Northern Netherlands on the role of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the design and implementation of the Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3). It is one of the case studies undertaken in the project Higher Education for Smart Specialisation (HESS), an initiative of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.


There is a long tradition of higher education in the Northern Netherlands, with the key characteristic of a strong presence of Universities of Applied Sciences and RUG University of Groningen. The regional HEIs are actively involved in strong bilateral collaborations projects and clusters and living labs encouraging collaborations within the regional innovation ecosystems, being part of key innovation ecosystem governance structures. Although regional HEIs have individually been very effective in driving particular projects, there is still not a collective institutional space for HEIs, undermining a strategic agenda for HE in the region. The Northern Netherlands has a strong innovation ecosystem around a number of established sectors where there are robust relationships between HEIs and companies with innovative infrastructure. In the long-standing culture of collaboration of the regional innovation ecosystem, the introduction of the RIS3 has constituted an opportunity to a concerted effort to streamline innovation governance and to integrate activities to stimulate innovation.

The key regional economic development issue remains the fact that it is a relatively sparse economic environment, which challenges the regional innovation governance. The Northern Netherlands has the potential to function as a knowledge economy more efficiently at the level of the North through a better integration of the provincial knowledge economies. The connectedness of SMEs into regional innovation networks can be improved building a natural “innovation escalator” by which individual connections with SMEs grow, become networks and evolves into key regional strengths. The region attracts a growing number of talented students, which can help build stronger connections between HEIs and regional innovators to strengthen firms’ innovation capacity and help in their retention. Finally, HEIs occupy a strong position in the existing regional innovation ecosystem, as a site for experimentation and reflection, and it is key that they are encouraged to continue that work. The case study has coordinated closely with the ongoing discussions on the new RIS3 for the Multi-annual Financial Framework 2021-2027, contributing with findings that have helped the regional stakeholders in the definition of some of its future elements.

Higher Education for Smart Specialisation Northern Netherlan.pdf
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