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Stepping out of the Ivory Tower

Posted by 565478 Feb 21, 2011

OECD Conference “For Stronger, Cleaner and Fairer Regions” in Seville, Spain, calls for more engagement and collaboration between universities and local economies

What better setting for a conference than the city of Seville, the regional capital of Andalusia. A melting pot of cultures, an ancient learning center, Seville has huge potential to be a world class city in the creative economy. The scientific and technological activity hub is fed by Seville’s three universities, whose laboratories and research centers work in close connection with private and public actors in various fields of research.


With Seville as a backdrop, the 10-11 February OECD Conference on Higher Education in Regional and City Development explored the role of universities in the context of today’s global economic and financial crisis. Aart de Geus, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD, asked higher education institutions (HEIs) to “come out of their ivory towers” by engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including business and industry.


The conference covered a wide range of topics from experts around the world. Jamil Salmi, the World Bank’s tertiary education co-ordinator, discussed the negative economic consequences of limited access to higher education systems by people from low socio-economic backgrounds. Susan Christopherson from Cornell University, was critical of the US technology transfer model which creates some patents, makes a handful of universities rich but does not create a significant number of jobs and businesses.


Jaana Puukka, OECD analyst and one of the organizers of the conference, stressed the importance of universities’ role in the labour market in an interview with University World News. “In very few places can we see there is robust knowledge about the graduate labour market. Some universities are following up their students' progress - but in more cases they are not and universities see their responsibility as 'you get them in, you get them out'. In some cases, 50% drop out,” Puukka said. She stressed that HEI leaders need to be more proactive in establishing an entrepreneurial and locally engaged institution that doesn’t depend entirely on the national legislative framework. As she said, the "first movers never wait for the law to be changed."


With more than 250 participants from around 40 countries, the conference not only provided a forum for participants to share best practices, but also presented the main findings and policy lessons from the second round of OECD Reviews of Higher Education in Regional and City Development.


If the city of Seville isn’t enough to make you step out of the Ivory Tower, maybe joining the third round of reviews will.


For more information and the presentations in Seville, check out the conference website.

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