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NEW - For the convenience of our Asian colleagues and friends, there are now both Japanese and Korean translations of the PURE project overview.  Our thanks to Translating and Interpreting Programs, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia:
Kaoru Takasugi, Kanae Okuyama, Anna Kim, Myung Hee Choi, Jin Suk Eun, Jin Ah Kim and Su Jin Kim. Special thanks also to PASCAL associate Dr Fumi Kitagawa of the University of Bristol.

The PASCAL Universities' Regional Engagement (PURE) project

PURE is a major international study undertaken by PASCAL Observatory. PURE has extended and developed previous work to a series of new regions, and develops PASCAL themes through applied consultancy. Nineteen regions have been engaged in the study, which started in 1 January 2009.


The central purpose of PURE is to improve what happens in regions,continuing and sustaining good practices. PURE is action-oriented. Benefits of being involved for regions:

  • Participation in strands of action inquiry relevant to them;
  • Specific opportunities for international benchmarking;
  • Access to transferable practice across regions;
  • Direct learning from regions already engaged in analysing how higher education can support regional competitiveness and balanced, sustainable development;
  • Connecting with regions around the world in clusters of common interest mediated through web-conferencing, face-to-face meetings and twinning visits. This reflects the reality of global learning and global regional competitiveness.


The PURE project concerns the Higher Education system of regions (including both universities and the HE component of VET) and its engagement with those regions. It developed from an OECD thematic review project by the Institutional Management of Higher Education (IMHE) with the Directorate of Territorial Development and Public Governance, Supporting the contribution of HEIs to regional development, which embraced 14 regions across 12 countries. The study was based on regional self-evaluations and international peer reviews. Reports of the 14 regions have been published in the public domain. The final synthesis report, Higher Education and Regions – Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged, was published in 2007 and is available in English, French and Spanish The study provided guidance in policy and practice for higher education institutions and regional and national governments and assisted with capacity-building in each country/region.

That study concluded that the potential of higher education institutions to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of their regions was not being fully realised. The report analysed barriers to improvement, suggesting that universities should adopt a wide agenda of regional development - economic, social and cultural. It recommended greater autonomy and better incentives for institutions and their staff to engage with small and medium-sized business, and a more supportive environment for university-enterprise co-operation including regulatory and tax environment.

Instead of focusing on the supply-side of knowledge transfer, countries should develop business demand for university interaction. Universities should become more entrepreneurial, widen their service portfolio and address the needs of a wider range of firms and employers. “Knowledge transfer on legs” is important - students and graduates can be one of the most effective mechanisms for knowledge transfer.

The feedback from the 14 regions involved showed that the project improved the ability of regions and HEIs to share experience, interact, work together and communicate. Partnerships within the regions were strengthened. OECD led by IMHE is continuing its process of evaluative reviews on the same lines as it the original 14-regions study. Meanwhile Pascal has developed a different and complementary Project known as PURE. It differs in terms of interaction with the regions, and in its sustained consultative relationship throughout the life of the project and beyond. It also builds interaction between the regions by means of a number of tools including peer interaction and reciprocal consulting, benchmarking, and special interest sub-clusters of regions. It is complementary in providing development support following an OECD review. This assists regions to create and execute plans for actions that address identified in the review.

Current Work

Pascal has a strong panel of expert Associates. It grew out of OECD work in Regional Development from the late 1990s, and was created at an International OECD Conference in Melbourne with the State of Victoria and RMIT University in 2002. Its work has expanded through Europe where it has a European base at the University of Glasgow, and North America with a base at Northern Illinois University joining the Australian administrative HQ at RMIT University, Melbourne. Its Associates includes reviewers from 12 of the fourteen OECD 2004-07 Project regions, and members of Self-Evaluation Review teams. Through PURE, Pascal has extended and developed previous work to a series of new regions, which are currently engaged in a two-year study through 2009-2010. The PASCAL Universities Regional Engagement (PURE) Project takes further several important issues identified in 2004-07, working interactively over time with 19 regions around the world. 

Current PURE Regions

The folowing regions comprise the PURE Cohort:

  • Bukersud County, Norway
  • Calabar, Nigeria
  • Darling Downs, Australia
  • Devon and Cornwall, UK
  • Essex County, England
  • Flanders Region, Belgium
  • Gaborone City, Botswana
  • Glasgow City, Scotland
  • Helsinki Metropolitan Region (Helsinki, Espoo and Vaanta), Finland
  • Kent County, England
  • Jamtland Region, Sweden
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Melbourne City, Australia
  • Northern Illinois
  • Puglia Region, Italy
  • South-Trans-Danubian Region, Hungary
  • Thames Gateway, London, England
  • Varmland Region, Sweden

The Work of PURE

  • To monitor and compare approaches to the innovation system and human capacity-building work of HEIs across all strands of balanced social development - cultural, civil society, health and welfare, environmental as well as economic;
  • To identify barriers and ways to overcome them, where appropriate trying out approaches new to partnership and organisation successful in other regions;
  • To interrogate and use existing data more effectively and study the impact of HE partnership on regional development, with realistic tasks and targets for HE partnership-based regional development (metrics and impact evaluation) including ‘soft’ social, cultural, health and sustainability dimensions;
  • To opt into using selected benchmarking activities;
  • To explore the impact on regions of global warming and other ecological questions such as transportation, waste management and disposal, and the contribution of HEIs where science and social science can be applied e.g. to the intelligent energy agenda;
  • To analyse and compare trends towards and away from greater devolution;
  • To compare different intermediary models for university engagement;
  • To exchange approaches to advocating engagement nationally and rolling out regional engagement elsewhere in their countries.

How PURE Works

PASCAL agrees their focus of priority areas, and a work plan with each region. This includes two visits from an international review group assembled from its Associates and from other regions, as teams of both academics and regional planners.

Some methodologies require regions to undertake a detailed status self-review, using a common general template, prior to any involvement from a review group. PURE is different. It is tailored to the unique circumstances of change in each region. Rather than the rigorous but only snapshot evaluative and judgmental reviews of OECD, PURE brings a consultative and developmental approach (hence the term Consultative Development Group or CDG). The explicit focus from the outset is on changing and improving the quality of partnership, and on beneficial outcomes in terms of regional development which will also benefit the higher education (HE) sector. Direct exchange with other regions sharing similar ambitions and challenges assists practical learning and the adoption of good practice. CDGs reinforce the PURE networking approach, drawing members from other participating regions, and ‘twinning’ regions so that ‘reciprocal reviewers’ between regions share common interests. This is what we mean by ‘peer reviewing’.

It is essential to be able to learn from past and present experience, making best use of data available from all sources to inform regional governance and the management of productive partnership. PURE works in each region with a dedicated Link Partner, who convenes a local representative Regional Co-ordinating Group (RCG). It uses benchmarking tools within both the higher education institutions and the region.

Participation includes within the fee the right to use benchmarking tools, something unique in this kind of project. One tool is designed for use by higher education institutions. It enables them to analyse how they are performing in different areas, and to match this with what they wish to achieve. They can also compare what they are doing with what other universities in the same region and elsewhere are doing. Regions use a different benchmark tool which is at an earlier stage of refinement. Brought together, these tools allow partners to see where there are opportunities and gaps in provision, and where there may be unhelpful competition to meet a limited need. They allow those using them to monitor their own performance over time, and if they wish by comparison with regions and institutions elsewhere. Benchmarking is important in an era of audit and impact assessment, but its essential purpose is developmental.

Current priority clusters

These are led by regions themselves and identified following discussion with all the regions:

  • Regional Innovation and Renewal
  • Social Inclusion and Active Citizenship
  • Creative and Cultural Industries
  • Green Skills and Jobs
  • Tertiary Systems
  • Sustaining Rural and Remote Communities
  • Lifelong Learning and the Learning Region


The normal cost of involvement to regions is €30,000 per year for two years, a total of €60,000, subject to normal inflationary rises each year. It is met in different ways, sometimes by government nationally or regionally, sometimes by several partners contributing jointly.

Next Steps

For regions that started PURE in 2009, there will be an interim summary report of work over the two years 2009-2010, collectively and for each region. During 2010 the regions will consider how to carry forward the work of partnership and engagement with higher education through the next several years.

In the light of experience built and shared so far, new regions will join the ongoing PURE project during 2010-11. Efforts will be made: to deepen the involvement of countries having several PURE participating regions so as to increase impact nationally; and to widen the scope of PURE in order to add perspectives from new countries and regions around the world.

Becoming Involved

Pascal’s main annual International Conference enables those taking part to meet senior colleagues in Pascal and PURE, to take part in workshop sessions on PURE themes and outcomes, and to meet those involved in other PURE regions. The PURE Project includes taking part in comparative international review sessions.

We will be pleased to discuss PURE in more detail, in person, in writing, by phone or by tele/video conference. A visit will be arranged if there is significant interest.

Professor Mike Osborne, Professor Chris Duke, PURE, University of Glasgow -  Contact: PURE Administration


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