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Comunian, R., Taylor, C., & Smith, D. N. (2014). The Role of Universities in the Regional Creative Economies of
the UK: Hidden Protagonists and the Challenge of Knowledge Transfer. European Planning Studies, 22(12),
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The role of universities in the regional creative
economies of the UK: hidden protagonists and the
challenge of knowledge transfer
THIS IS A FINAL DRAFT VERSION – PLEASE CONTACT THE
CORRESPONDING AUTHOR BEFORE REFERENCING THIS PAPER
Roberta Comunian (King’s College London)
Calvin Taylor (University of Leeds)
David N. Smith (Glasgow Caledonian University)
Corresponding Author: Professor Calvin Taylor, School of Performance and Cultural
Industries, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT, England,
email@example.com, 0044 (0)113 3438736.
The Triple Helix model of knowledge-industry-government relationships is one of the most
comprehensive attempts to explain the changing institutional frameworks for innovation and
growth, especially in the regional and urban contexts. Since the 1970s policies have been
developed across Europe to evolve this institutional landscape. Since the late 1990s, regional and
urban development strategies have also sought to harness the growth potential of the Cultural and
Creative Industries (CCIs) to regional and urban economic development. However, whilst the
regional and urban planning literature has examined the growth-promoting potential of universities
very closely, their possible role in relation to regional and urban creative economic development
has received less attention. This paper aims to begin addressing this gap by interrogating the
relationship between universities and the regional creative economy using, as a starting point, a
model of analysis suggested by the Triple Helix theoretical framework. The paper finds that whilst
universities possess often long and hidden associations with regional and urban creative activities –
as hidden protagonists - there are important institutional and professional challenges in the
possibility of their developing an explicit and sustainable role as new actors in the regional and
urban creative economies.
Keywords: Creative economy; knowledge transfer; triple helix; cultural and creative industries;
arts and humanities
This paper uses the theoretical model of the Triple Helix (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997;
Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz 1998; Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2000; Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz
2001; Etzkowitz 2003) to examine the potential relationship between two key phenomena within
the regional and urban planning literatures: the role of the CCIs in fostering regional and urban
innovation and growth, and, the role of institutions of higher education in promoting these
objectives. For the purposes of this paper, the CCIs are taken to be industrial activities that are
primarily geared towards the production of symbolic products, the value of which is ultimately
valorised in a market-place (Hesmondhalgh 2007). The paper draws upon the experience of the
UK, which, since the election of the Coalition Government in May 2010 has conspicuously
withdrawn from the regional development agenda, and, in stark distinction with much of mainland
Europe, has also disengaged from the CCI development agenda which has now become so much
associated with the previous New Labour government.
Universities in the UK under both the previous and new regimes were and continue to be deeply
embedded in knowledge economy policy discourse, both shaping it and being the recipients of
specific funding to promote it (Charles 2003; Harloe and Perry 2004). The period 1997 through to
2008 also saw a high level of government policy activism (national, regional and local) on the
regional and urban benefits of the CCIs, accompanied by a rich and highly varied research effort
drawing on a wide range of disciplines and a wide range of research agents, including academics,
policy analysts, consultants and CCI intermediary and lobby organisations (Hall 2000; Jayne 2005;
Chapain and Comunian 2010). The starting point for the argument of this paper is the recognition
that these two facets of public policy – regional policy-making on the one hand and the role of
universities in the development of the creative industries on the other - have not yet explored their
potential interaction and overlap.
The research literature on the role of universities in the innovation system is extensive and includes
detailed studies on knowledge transfer and collaboration (Bercovitz and Feldman 2006) and
models of innovation and their key relationships (Dodgson, Gann et al. 2005), but, so far the
research has concentrated on specific – mostly science and technology – disciplinary boundaries of
university interaction with policy initiatives and the economy (Linderlöf and Löfsten 2004).
Similarly, a review of the research on the CCIs, reveals many studies which analyse, for example,
the cultural and creative production system (Pratt 1997; Pratt 2004; Adkins, Foth et al. 2007; Pratt
2008; Bakhshi and McVittie 2009; Abadie, Friedewald et al. 2010; Potts and Cunningham 2010),
the role played by networks and informal relations (Banks, Lovatt et al. 2000; Delmestri,
Montanari et al. 2005; Adkins, Foth et al. 2007; Antcliff, Saundry et al. 2007; Dahlstrom and
Hermelin 2007; Potts, Cunningham et al. 2008; Currid and Williams 2010; Lange 2010; Lingo and
O'Mahony 2010), the importance of places and clusters (Bassett and Griffiths 2002; Drake 2003;
Mommaas 2004; Neff 2005; Bathelt and Graf 2008; Gwee 2009; Pratt 2009; Collis, Felton et al.
2010; Thomas, Hawkins et al. 2010) and the conditions and drivers of creative labour (Banks 2006;
Comunian 2009). The role of HE institutions within this new CCI landscape in the UK has
received some attention (Crossick 2006; Powell 2007; Taylor 2007; Comunian and Faggian 2011)
but little with an explicitly regional and urban development focus.
The aims of this paper are two-fold: first, to begin creating a conceptual bridge between these two
bodies of research which can inform future planning knowledge and understanding, and secondly,
to contribute to the process of mapping possible models of interaction and the means by which
CCI-university-government relationships might be promoted or inhibited. The advent of policies to
promote interaction between businesses, institutions and public bodies has prompted the
development of a range of models used to explain the changing regional and urban economic
landscape. One of the most prominent of these, the Triple Helix model is used in the paper as an
initial framework to begin the process of disclosing the emergent multiplex dynamics and
interactions between the three spheres of the higher education system, the CCIs and public policy.
In particular, we are interested in what the model has to say about the dialectical relationship
between recursive and reflexive modes of change and adaptation in the knowledge-innovation
system. We stress that the framework is used here with the modest ambition of initiating possible
avenues of analysis rather than, for example, the much more ambitious (and almost certainly
contentious) project of proving any correspondence between the knowledge transfer dynamics of
the CCIs and those of say the science and technology field. Since one of the central theoretical
tenets of the Triple Helix model is that of the generative and evolutionary power of relationships,
this paper is particularly interested in how academics as a professional group central to the
operation of the Triple Helix have responded to the seemingly intensifying interactions between
the spheres of higher education, the CCIs and public policy. In particular, the paper bases part of its
findings on a series of interviews undertaken with academics during the course of 2007 and 2008
which focused on the self-perceived and self-reported roles that academics play in the creative
economy; the value they attribute to their interactions with creative businesses, organisations and
practitioners, and what they see as the potential enablers for and barriers against such activities. A
more detailed discussion on the methodology and data collected is presented in paragraph 3.1.
The paper is structured in three parts. The first sets out a brief synopsis of the key relevant
elements of the Triple Helix theoretical framework, drawing on central contributions in its
formation. The second sets out how it might be used articulate the industry-policy-knowledge
relationships of the creative economy, drawing on a range of research contributions on the CCIs.
The third part of the paper presents and discusses the findings from empirical research undertaken
with UK-based academics as key agents in the Triple Helix, framed according to the analysis
presented in part two. Our findings suggest that universities have long interacted with their
regional creative economies and, at least until very recently, have continued to expand their
engagement. However, rather than the dialectically recursive and reflexive institutional adaptation
advanced by the Triple Helix model, what we find is that academic engagement with the creative
economy is heavily mediated by three sets of qualifying phenomena: the structural expectations of
the higher education system (Benner and Sandström 2000; Lawton Smith 2007), persistent
institutional realities (of historic mission, academic organisation and academic culture) and by the
norms and values of discipline and academic professional practice (Bullen, Robb et al. 2004). The
paper principally aims to stimulate further debate by arguing for the need for a better
understanding of the complex, sometimes explicit, often implicit, roles that institutions of higher
education play in shaping their regional and urban creative economies. The Triple Helix model is
helpful in some respects as an important contribution to this objective, but, as we suggest later, it
may be limited in some key areas.
1. The Triple Helix
The Triple Helix model of industry-policy-knowledge relationships was introduced into the
academic and policy worlds by the work of Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz (1996), who argued that
these rich triplicate relationships were conspicuously influential in the shaping of systems for
innovation and growth. Arguing against the familiar and much critiqued linear interpretation of
knowledge creation, they explain that “a spiral model of innovation is required to capture multiple
reciprocal linkages at different stages of the capitalization of knowledge” (Etzkowitz and
Leydesdorff 1997: 1). Observing that the present historical epoch is notable for its state of social,
economic and cultural flux, innovation systems are increasingly structured, not by the prevailing
institutional arrangements for innovation but by the interactions between agents and the systems of
communication and intermediation (including new temporary organisations) they create to enable
new innovation to take place (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2000). The sense of intense reflexivity
this introduces into the system has the effect of de-centring traditional institutional arrangements,
de-coupling institutions from their traditional functions and setting in motion an evolutionary
process of functional combination and re-combination. In a very real sense, historic institutional
certainties weaken, new narratives of purpose and intention are created, and new temporary
communities of practice – and their necessary organisational arrangements - emerge and submerge
according to the dialectic of recursion and reflexivity between the helices of the Triple Helix.
From the first seminal papers in 1996 and 1997, a dynamic research field has emerged (see for
example Fritsch and Schwirten 1999; Linderlöf and Löfsten 2004) expanding both its
geographical reach and the range of sub-topics covered by Triple Helix analysis. At the heart of
the model is the key proposition that innovation springs from the “generative relationships”
(Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 1997) created between agents and the transformations that ensue for
both actors within the relationships and in the relationships themselves. As the commentators
Viale and Pozzali (2010) observe, the value of the Triple Helix lies in the relationship between
feedback and change. With this central tenet in mind, here are the four key features of the Triple
Helix model that we use in relation to our analysis of both the existing selected research and which
inform our analysis of the interviews with representatives of the academic community.
1. Mutliplex relationships. The first concerns what Etzkowitz and colleagues see as the
proliferation of mutiplex relationships between the three spheres of knowledge, industry and
government operative at differentiated scales, geographically, sectorally and politically
(Leydesdorff and Etzkowitiz 2000). In their example, governments that were hitherto constrained
to interact at the national level with industries under their own jurisdiction can now interact with
sectors across a scale from international to local and vice-versa.
2. Evaluation. The second concerns the model of outcome evaluation by which Triple Helix
interactions and actions are evaluated. The increased contingency and chance of the knowledge
economy renders ex ante evaluation pretty much impossible. This places an increased stress on the
need for quantifiable measures of ex-post evaluation. Agents may not know the value of a
particular interaction at its inception, and may indeed be prepared to entertain a wide variety of
possible courses of action, but they do need to be in a position to evaluate it afterwards. As a
result, evaluation tends inevitably towards the quantitative (Leydesdorff and Etzkowitiz 2000).
This closely ties with the third characteristic.
3. Organisational innovation. Increased contingency prompts institutions to develop more intuitive
and improvisational strategies. These can take institutions outside their institutional comfort-zones
as helical combination and re-combination engenders a dialectical spiral of recursive institutional
differentiation and reflexive institutional de-differentiation (Etzkowitz 2003). This also applies to
how the university can become a component element within the new spaces of innovation that have
proliferated beyond the laboratory to encompass a wider range of metaphors for knowledge
production and applications activities. The innovation landscape takes on new shapes – niches,
clusters, filieres, milieux, etc. (Etzkowitz 2003).
4. Knowledge exchange. Historically, this revolves around ‘knowledge-push’ and ‘market-pull’,
but in a fourth characteristic, the Triple Helix model argues that distinctions such as ‘basic-applied’
and ‘Mode I-Mode II’ (Gibbons 1994) may not be as absolute as their originators assume. Within
the Triple Helix, multi-form possibilities are present. As Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000)
explain, the poles of these binaries are as likely to exist within each other as much as they are
likely to co-exist in tension with each other.
With these four characteristics acting as lenses, we now turn to how this analysis of the Triple
Helix might be used to examine the creative economy.
2. The Triple Helix and the Creative Economy
All of these characteristics are relevant to the study of regional and urban creative economies and
their interactions with public policy and higher education. Figure 1 offers a simple, provisional
mapping schemata of the Triple Helix intersections (labelled 1 to 4) in regional and urban creative
economies. This schema frames the reading of a range of research contributions that have already
potentially paved the way for the development of a knowledge base supporting this model. This
forms the core of the conceptual bridge that we think will enable these literatures to become
connected. In particular, the following sections summarises: first, key research contributions on
the relationship between government and local and regional public policies and the role attributed
to the creative and cultural sector within these (labelled Intersection 1); secondly, a sample of
theoretical research on the claimed role of higher education on the delivery of local and regional
economic development and policies (labelled Intersection 2); thirdly, a synoptic exploration of the
conceptual potential of the Triple Helix model of the relationships between higher education and
the creative economy (labelled Intersection 3). After considering these first three intersections, we
then provisionally consider the fourth intersection – the point where these three intersections
overlap. This putative Triple Helix model of the creative economy then becomes the focal concern
of our examination of the empirical material in the third section of the paper.
Figure 1: A New Triple Helix? The Creative Economy, Public Policy and Higher Education
Intersection 2: Interconnections
between HEIs and regional and
the creative economy
and HE, including the
role of knowledge
Interactions between public
policy (at national, regional
and local level) and the
cultural and creative sector.
Interactions among the three fields –
possible ‘triple helix’ model.
2.1 Intersection 1: The Creative and Cultural industries and Public Policy
The economic growth potential of the CCIs has animated the field of UK regional and urban
development policy for at least fifteen years (Bianchini and Parkinson 1993; Griffiths 1993;
Bianchini and Landry 1995; Griffiths 1995; Griffiths 1995; Pratt 1997; Pratt 1997; Wynne and
O'Connor 1998; Brown, O'Connor et al. 2000; Bassett and Griffiths 2002; Griffiths, Bassett et al.
2003; Pratt 2004; Pratt 2005). This is now a major area of interest for European policy-makers
(European Commission 2005). However, this interest extends beyond the merely promotional. In
an important reflexive move, the CCIs are as much a product of the constitutive power of the
state’s role in economic governance, as they are a product of secular industrial development. As
O’Connor (1999) point out, the term ‘cultural industries’ was first used extensively by the Greater
London Council (GLC) in the 1980s as a rhetorical device designed to promote an ‘alternative
economic’ model of cultural policy.
In a move prompted as much by rhetoric (of a distinctively different hue) as by motives of
indicative planning, the new UK central government of 1997 moved very quickly to recognise the
‘creative industries’ by establishing the Creative Industries Task Force shortly after its election.
The Task Force comprised representatives of the putative creative industries, including existing
and nascent intermediary organisations and representatives of a number of government
departments. One of its first actions, in a perfect example of institutional reflexivity set about
mapping (describing and quantifying) the creative industries, and identifying policy measures that
could promote their further development. The Creative Industries Mapping Document (DCMS
1998) is one of the most quoted documents in the field. One of the main reasons for this is that
alongside its seemingly prosaic descriptive and statistical concerns, it offered an analytical
definition of the creative industries sector, famously described as “those activities which have their
origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have the potential for wealth and job
creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” (DCMS 1998:3).
Although the ensuing debate quickly descended into arguments over what should be included and
what should be excluded, the important effect had occurred: government and industry (and some
representatives of higher education and consultancy) had discursively constructed an object to
which all parties could relate. Once established, the further constitution of the creative industries
emerged in rapid piecemeal fashion in a series of reports commenting variously on television
exports (DCMS 1998), the contribution of the creative industries to national exports (DCMS
1999), the internet (DCMS) and the regional dimension (DCMS 1999), together with regular
reviews of the economic contribution of the sector to the national economy.
Conspicuously, the constitutive power of public policy is revealed in another important dimension.
In addition to the economic importance of the CCIs, a wide literature, both academic and public
policy based, has explored how the sector impacts on developments in a wide range of fields,
usually corresponding to the regional or local scale, including urban regeneration, social cohesion,
civic participation, quality of life and revitalisation (Bianchini and Landry 1995; Griffiths 1995;
Markusen and Schrock 2006). This milieu however, evidences further Triple Helix qualities. The
boundaries between the types of organisations in the creative industries can often be blurred as
commercial organisations take active roles in public interest activities and voluntary organisations
take on more commercial functions. Boundaries can be blurred and conditions appear to
interchange, a reflection in particular of the specific contexts of each component sub-system and
the project-based nature of contractual relations found across much of the sector (Grabher 2001;
Neff, Wissinger et al. 2005). According to Pratt (1997) understanding how the CCIs work from a
demand side perspective requires a focus on the role of networks and institutions and the social
division of labour across firms. The force of social networks as market-forming has also been the
subject of conceptual work on the creative industries (Potts, Cunningham et al. 2008).
The policy implications that flow from these kinds of analyses are important for our argument.
The CCIs draw together a wide network of agencies and stakeholders that range from the field of
culture to the industrial and not for profit sectors, which together prompts speculation about the
appropriate type of governance for these arrangements (Jeffcutt and Pratt 2002). This shared
governance and the role of networks across different sectors appears to suggest that the CCIs
contain a high degree of connectivity both in the public infrastructure and in the production and
consumption of economic outputs (Comunian 2010). Jeffcutt and Pratt (2002) describe these
arrangements as follows: “Hybrid and emergent organisational spaces, made up of dynamic
interfaces between multiple stakeholders with many layers of knowledge are both characteristic of,
and endemic in, the cultural industries” (Jeffcutt and Pratt, 2002:231). Hybridity, emergence,
multiple stakeholders and multiple layers of knowledge all point to qualities of the Triple Helix.
As boundaries shift between organisation and network, public and private, market and voluntary
sector, it is important to acknowledge how this multiplexity also became spatially inflected by the
emphasis after 1997 in the UK on the regional and urban contexts. This regionalisation agenda
gave especial policy cachet to the CCIs. With this came a new twist in cultural policy as the CCIs
were not only related to the then newly conceived economic role of regions, particularly in English
political discourse, but to the economic arguments increasingly deployed to explain the creative
potential and economic competitiveness of specific localities (Pratt 2004), an understanding that
also drove the focus of certain aspects of European Structural Fund intervention (Taylor 2009). In
the UK, the advocacy in support of the CCIs has been linked to a specifically regional development
perspective leading to what a number of commentators have described as a fairly standard
repertoire of policy constructs such as cultural quarters and creative clusters (Jayne 2005). The
Sheffield Cultural Quarter, established in the early 1980s as a local government initiative provides
a pioneering example. As Moss (2002) suggests, the emphasis of the project was mainly on job
creation in cultural production. But other examples have been created in different cities around the
UK such as Bristol (Bassett, Griffiths et al. 2002), London (Newman and Smith 2000) but also in
smaller towns such as Huddersfield (Wood and Taylor 2004) in West Yorkshire. In all these
examples, local development agencies and local authority initiatives played central roles. Later
developments continue the trend for public policy to have a defining role through its interaction
with other agents. Indeed, the thrust of the later New Labour government’s work on the creative
industries reflected in the Creative Economy Programme (DCMS and BERR 2008), together with a
flurry of policy-related papers from various think-tanks suggests that the existence of the sector
continues to result from the discursive effects of public policy (NESTA 2007; The Work
2.2 Intersection 2: Higher Education and Regional Development
There is an extensive literature addressing the role of higher education in regional economic
development and we will only comment on a small number of relevant topics here. Authors
commonly recognise that this particular attention to the potential impact of higher education has
been linked to a national knowledge economy agenda, an agenda to which the CCI policy agenda
has an ambiguous relationship. Although it is difficult to summarise the complex role of
institutions of higher education in a specific geographical context, the literature articulates three
key dimensions for our purposes:
Human Capital: higher education institutions contribute to a specific locality though the
provision of graduates and a highly educated workforce (Florida 1999). This human capital,
although very mobile (Faggian and McCann 2009), can influence the local economic
development of specific contexts. Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000) argue that the supply of
graduates may in fact be universities most important contribution to innovation;
Knowledge: it is acknowledged that the knowledge generated by universities can through a
variety of processes (knowledge transfer, spin-off companies, knowledge spillovers etc.) enrich
the regional context (Audretsch, Lehmann et al. 2005) and give raise to potential economic
benefits derived by that knowledge (Anselin, Varga et al. 2000). Universities can adopt more
or less entrepreneurial approaches in managing these spillovers (Clark 1998);
Infrastructure: in the processes through which knowledge and human capital interact and
contribute to the local context there is always an element of infrastructure development taking
place. This might, for example, be a new incubator space (Rothaermel and Thursby 2005) or
new premises and conference facilities as well as new networking spaces or virtual platforms
While much of the literature tends to concentrate on specific aspects of the impact of higher
education and their interactions with the knowledge economy, many authors recognise the
complexity of the knowledge interactions taking place. However, as Harloe and Perry (2004), for
example, have argued the much-anticipated alignment of university interests with the knowledge
economy agenda has at best been uneven, and possibly even un-convincing. They challenge the
view that universities are moving seamlessly from ‘Mode 1’ knowledge production regimes
(knowledge generated and controlled by specific disciplinary communities) to ‘Mode 2’ regimes
(where knowledge is generated and applied in trans-disciplinary and applied way (Gibbons 1994)).
The picture, they suggest, appears much more complex with multiple and overlapping influences
and interests at work. In many ways the engagement that universities have with the regional
economy exhibit both traditional priorities and new inflexions of older educational agendas. Whilst
in Intersection 1 we saw evidence of the Triple Helix-like transformations, there is increased doubt
about the extent to which universities as institutions are capable of creating the governance
arrangements that would enable the full Triple Helix model to work (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff
2000; Ozga and Jones 2006).
2.3 Intersection 3: The Role of Universities in the Regional Creative Economy
It has been argued that universities have been long-term, but often ‘hidden’ protagonists of the
cultural economy, specifically at local and regional levels (Chatterton and Goddard 2000). It is
worth recalling that the majority of universities in the UK were in fact established to fulfil
economic functions (Bond and Paterson 2005) in ways which have often rendered the cultural
functions of universities less visible. The foundation of the arts and humanities faculties was part
of this process of cultural and creative engagement. Not only were the universities historically the
training grounds for the professions, but by the 1950s industry was increasingly turning to arts
graduates to solve the problem of a growing shortage of technologists (Sanderson 1988). Alongside
this contribution the civic role of universities in developing the cultural life and offer of many UK
cities (Smith, Taylor et al. 2008) has been demonstrated in the commitment of a large part of the
university workforce to cultural activities, their dissemination and, specifically in the areas of arts
and humanities, through reach-out projects and the provision of cultural infrastructure.
In these roles, university museums and galleries have a long history of contributing to the local
cultural offer, alongside the more contemporary university theatre and students union. If we read
across from the regional development functions of universities to the CCIs, we quickly see that the
human capital dimension has been the main focus of the recent literature, especially influenced by
the work of Florida (Florida 2002; Florida 2002; Florida 2002; Florida 2003). While in other
disciplinary areas, universities are considered central to the regional economy because they engage
actively in research exploitation through such activities as technology transfer, patenting and spin-
offs, there is an inherent and not always welcome challenge for the arts and humanities research-
base (Bullen, Robb et al. 2004). This is complicated by the very nature of the CCIs as an industrial
sector – consisting of micro businesses and with little capacity to finance or support external R&D
- and which has implications for the knowledge and infra-structural roles ascribed in dominant
innovation discourse to universities.
The CCIs sector comprises mainly small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) of less than 250
employees. 99.6% of UK CCI companies fall into this category, approximately 90% of the whole
sector consists of companies with less than 10 employees and the few (around 500) large
enterprises that do exist in the sector are concentrated mainly in London (Taylor 2007). This raises
two main questions. First, it implies the need to recognise regional differentiation within the
creative economy, since universities located beyond the national capital city will almost certainly
need to forge better relations with SMEs if they are to engage with the CCIs. Second, it raises
questions about the potential affinity between particular kinds of higher education institution and
the CCIs. Given the propensity of the research-intensive universities to define their missions
internationally in terms of their research quality, striving for success in their local and regional
relationships with the CCIs may require some structural and cultural plurality in approaches
towards collaborations with the SME sector. As a result even some of the most entrepreneurial
universities have responded unevenly to the third mission of economic development and certainly
from a system-wide point of view the picture is complex – and incomplete.
It has been suggested that the general challenges of institutional adaptation faced by universities
are even more intense at the disciplinary level. Clark’s (1998) study of entrepreneurial universities
in different European countries argued that while science and technology departments had found it
relatively easy (which may be more appearance than reality) to adjust to the new entrepreneurial
regimes, arts and humanities departments could be characterised as the ‘resisting laggards’ (Clark,
1998). Clark, incidentally, thought they might have good reason, since new money may not flow
readily from government or non-government sources for these activities, reducing the incentive to
change. Nevertheless, in a number of cases partial transformation has taken place resulting in some
institutions existing in a ‘schizophrenic state, entrepreneurial on one side, traditional on the other’
(Clark 1998: 141). Developments over the last ten years in UK research funding models will
undoubtedly provide future incentives for engagement.
Despite these apparent gaps, the evidence suggests actual wide-spread engagement. The national
survey of English universities’ interaction with business in 2001-2002 (HEFCE 2003) found that
one of the most commonly reported institutional intentions was to work with the CCIs. The
subsequent high-profile Lambert Review of Business – University Collaboration (HM Treasury
2003), commissioned by the UK Treasury noted: “there are many excellent examples of
collaborations involving the creative industries and universities or colleges of art and design.
Policy-makers must ensure that policies aimed at promoting knowledge transfer are broad enough
to allow initiatives such as these to grow and flourish, and that the focus is not entirely on science
and engineering” (HM Treasury, 2003:45). Nevertheless, whilst a broad range of types of
institution acknowledge their work with the CCIs, it was most marked within the ‘new’ universities
sector, a sector that also tends more explicitly to identify its purpose with the local and regional
economies (HEFCE 2003). The Higher Education Funding Council’s own evaluation of its
innovation and knowledge transfer funding programmes highlighted the unexpectedly high
engagement in these activities by the arts.
Taking these three sets of summary observations into account, the synoptic picture at intersection 4
is complex; evidencing Triple Helix-like processes within the CCIs, but more complexly arrayed
structural and institutional priorities, motivations and expectations at the system and institutional
levels of higher education. It is to this complexity that we now turn. The Triple Helix offers a
sophisticated and nuanced account of how institutions may evolve, the reasons for that evolution
and where it might lead. The world of UK higher education has seen intense policy action,
specifically with regard to working with industry. In the next section we explore through
interviews with forty-four academics and academic managers how that new mission has been
ingested into the institutional world of the university.
3. A New Triple Helix: Universities, Public Policy and the CCIs
This section interrogates the nature of a series of reported interactions between universities and the
CCIs with special emphasis on those interactions that are with the arts and humanities research
base. The methodology and data collected are presented before discussing the over-arching
questions focused on: multiplexity, evaluation, organisational innovation, spatial innovation and
3.1 Methodology, data and research questions
The forty-four interviews were conducted during 2007 and 2008 with four sets of university
personnel: executive leaders, departmental managers, central business development managers and
academics. The sample of institutions selected was mapped against two criteria – regional location
(ensuring a distribution by geography across the UK) and institutional mission. The acknowledged
complexities of codifying the latter aside, the sample included respectively: specialist arts colleges,
self-identified research intensive universities and universities that fore-grounded their teaching and
local industrial engagement missions. This produced a sample of ten institutions (two pilot
institutions and eight included in the principal sample). The interviews were conducted using a
semi-structured interview schedule with four major areas of interest: the first covered the meanings
attached by academic agents to the term ‘knowledge exchange’ in the arts and humanities and the
types of activities and engagements with external agencies included under such a rubric; the second
covered the reported motivations offered by interviewees for undertaking these types of activities
including perceptions of their value; the third area covered the ways in which such activities were
supported, or where applicable, impeded; and, the fourth the ways in which value (academic and
otherwise) is ‘captured’ by institutions. Interviews were timed to last at least one hour with some
variation. The majority of interviews were recorded by the interviewer and transcribed
professionally. In three cases, hand-written notes were taken. Interviewees were selected from art,
music and performance as represented in standard UK university subject classifications and
produced the following structured sample:
Table 1: Summary of sample institutions
It is readily apparent from university promotional materials and sources, as well as from reports by
sector bodies, that universities in the UK have taken on board the push for supporting the CCIs
from public policy. Obvious signs of engagement are the development of specific CCI
departments; new courses (especially at post-graduate level) aimed at creative entrepreneurship
and innovation (Warwick, King’s College London, Goldsmith’s, and Leeds, for example) and
growing centres of research with a specialist interest in the CCIs (at various times: Manchester
Metropolitan, Goldsmith’s College London, the London School of Economics, Leeds, King’s
College London and Warwick). Historical affiliations between programmes in music, fine art,
performance and design are also being re-tooled to reflect the broader significance of the CCIs,
with the inclusion of enterprise education and work-based learning in the CCIs in the under-
graduate curricula (Brown 2007). This activity is mirrored in new funding programmes, especially
for developing collaborations between university academics and CCI business and organisations,
including national initiatives such as the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network and the
regional London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise. Active UK funding bodies include the
Technology Strategy Board, the Environmental and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Arts
and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Knowledge
Transfer Partnership Scheme.
But how do institutions and academics describe their interactions with the CCI sector? What are
the typical characteristics of such interactions? What encourages or inhibits them? How is value
captured from them? Our results are presented around four key themes that characterised most of
the conversations with participants. All the interviewee highlighted the complex network of
relations and interactions that characterise their knowledge exchange with creative practitioners
The second is that the nature of the interactions undertaken as a result and the ways in which they
are valued are heavily mediated by what might be described as system and institutional realities (of
funding, organisational structure, institutional culture and tradition) and disciplinary cultures
(shared ideas across the academic-practice nexus about such matters as artistic credibility,
professional repute, disciplinary values and norms). These mediating features persist as political
and organisational realities in spite of attempts by policy-makers and funders to persuade
universities and academics to adapt their behaviours and priorities in the direction of knowledge
exploitation and application. Another key dimension that was of concern both for managers and
academics was the issue of evaluation and how to capture the impact of what was taking place
within and outside academia. Many of the respondents identified these knowledge practice and
exchanges taking place as a new and evolving landscape requiring organisational innovation and
mechanisms of learning and adaption. The respondents also provided interesting takes on the
definition and practice of knowledge exchange, which critically engage with the notions of
knowledge transfer and Triple Helix.
3.1 Multiplex Relationships
Our interviews evidence a rapid expansion and diversification of the relationships that institutions,
departments and individual academics have developed with organisations and individuals in the
CCIs. However, they also show that any external push towards speeding up and reframing the
collaboration and exchanges with industry and policy are set within the long-terms practices of
institutions, departments, disciplines and individuals. Three sets of considerations were regularly
cited by academics in relation to interactions with the CCIs. These were: the place of external
engagement within the professional academic identity; the relationship between the economy of
academic esteem and practitioner reputation, and, the complex problematics of pursuing academic
work in the arts and humanities which is sensitised to external engagement with departmental and
institutional resource requirements.
Academics who work with other sectors often reported complexities and sometimes tensions in
being able to fulfil an external mission which they see as being encouraged by funding streams and
policy priorities, but which is still not seen by institutions as impacting upon notions of academic
“I think that definition of the inside and the outside is the thing which has perhaps
characterised what I’ve been doing all along. I did a talk….which was attempting to deal
with the edges of the institution, the inside and the outside and how one kind of managed
that sort of interface, because it strikes me that that’s one of the key problems in this area.
And having been in a situation where I did sort of straddle that….I felt acutely the
difficulties which arose out of that” (Lecturer).
Responding to encouragement to engage in external activities was even reported as having limiting
effects on careers: “Well I mean I think probably in career terms it didn’t do me any good at all”
The executive managers and leaders in universities we interviewed were amply aware of the public
policy push behind the encouragement for universities to interact with the CCIs. That is readily
evident in the willingness to validate new courses, create new departments and foster strategic
alliances with leading CCI organisations. Interestingly, however, the leaders see these interactions
as less as the university adapting to post-industrial economic and social forms and their associated
priorities, but more as the university assimilating the CCIs into an on-going institutional narrative
about locale and the civic role of the university, which forms a key component of the way that such
interactions are evaluated. Often invoking narratives of origin, executive leaders see the CCIs as a
new opportunity for the university to be seen as exercising its historic social obligations to locality.
This is inflected in two ways depending on the nature of the institution. In some, this adoption is
part of an historic narrative about the relationship between the university and local industry. Where
universities have a strong sense of their connection with local industry – many were set up by
groups of local entrepreneurs (“our connections with industry go back forever”, Institutional
Leader) – the approach to the CCIs is couched in terms of serving the local economy, particularly
in terms of likely graduate destinations:
“Where arts and humanities have come into commercialisation and consultancy has been in
cross-over work really between what they do and what our Careers Advisory Service do
around entrepreneurship education and start-ups for graduates.”
In others, the narrative is couched in terms of the university as historic patron of the arts and
culture. This was particularly true in research-intensive institutions where cultural paternalism with
respect to the arts sits alongside otherwise hard-edged knowledge economy narratives of
intellectual property exploitation and industrial innovation. Specialist institutions however, had a
clear sense of both of the contexts within which creative practice takes place, and of their own
responsibilities to it, but also the inherent difficulties:
“It’s challenging yeah. And they’re very small scale businesses and so in knowledge transfer
and buying services from us they’re never going to be in a position to do it” (Executive
Departmental heads also share this broader strategic sense of the university in relation to the CCIs.
However, their view is tempered by resource considerations and what was clearly a more
institutionally pragmatic outlook:
“…like every university, we are under pressure to bring in more income and we spent a lot
of time last year developing new ideas for short courses and conferences and we may have
some very imaginative ideas….but in the end we just couldn’t live with any of these plans
because we couldn’t make them sufficiently price competitive” (Departmental Head).
Typically as the authority accountable for resources, departmental heads find themselves in
negotiation between the strategic imperatives of the institution, especially with respect to income
generation and the achievement of core goals in relation to learning and teaching and research.
However, for experienced heads of department there is also something resonant about the
emergence of the ‘knowledge transfer agenda’:
“It’s of course been happening endlessly. So, what used to be coming back to the university
to talk to a member of staff who used to be in a theatre company and now is setting one up
and we’re developing and, etc, etc. that’s now formal mentoring with somebody”
This interaction between professional academic work and working in the creative industries has
been seen by some departmental heads as offering the prospect of being able to capture benefit for
the department, not always with the success sought:
“…we have another member of staff who is only half time for us and who came to us with
massive experience in cultural programming for the BBC….and we always hoped and
expected that we’d get a slice of that action, but we didn’t, he’s always been able to keep
them very separate” (Departmental Leader).
3.3 Organisational innovation
Such experiences as that just illustrated point to an organisational challenge. Engagements with
the CCIs are open-ended, managed within disciplinary and local networks with academic and
practice-based memberships, and where engagement does not always have tangible benefit to the
university. Such membership networks provide both academics and practitioners with space to
meet, share ideas and re-enforce disciplinary norms and values, especially in relation to matters of
esteem, reputation and credibility. However, benefits back to the department are typically
uncertain, unpredictable and generally unquantifiable in terms of likely payback. The opportunities
for student engagement were unanimously supported with respondents very clearly endorsing the
widespread adoption across the arts of agendas on employability, enterprise education and work-
based learning. Engagements with external organisations prepared to provide placements,
internships and other forms of work-based learning were particularly valued.
What this illustrates is that although universities understand that the CCIs are a deeply networked
sector, they find it difficult to take the next Triple Helix step and take on the ‘role of the other’ by
taking on the priorities, values and ways of working of the CCIs. Other solutions are improvised.
As one music academic explains:
“Liaison between the culture industry or the popular music industry or the commercial
industry and academia is fraught….there aren’t meeting places…..And so there are….word
of mouth…exchanges that take place between commercial music and the public subsidised
bodies and we’re all interested in each other. We can talk to each other….and I look for
opportunities. I’m comfortable with that. Brokerage might be the key.” (Lecturer)
However there are structural inhibitors that highlight the set of asymmetries between university
departments and CCI organisations:
“…we like the idea of emulating science and technology, we like the idea of being organised
and setting up large umbrella schemes to work within and I think that is possible. But
actually the size of the companies are different…it’s quite difficult to find a creative
company of the size that would support the sort of large-scale projects that are going on in
science and technology.” (Departmental Head).
3.4 Knowledge Exchange
The concept of knowledge exchange has taken over from the older concept of knowledge transfer
in order to reflect the reflexive nature of university-industry relationships. It aligns closely with
the dynamic of the Triple Helix. Academics were especially sensitised to both the discursive
power of this shift in language – but also to the practical implications of what it might entail. The
relationship between intellectual and artistic and cultural practices meshed complexly with
imperatives for external engagement. As a music academic explained
“I think that the stuff, the matter, the material of our subject is, in itself, a form of knowledge
transfer in any case because we’re thinking about the world of ideas…we’re living in a
world of communication and a world of critiquing one form and reading art forms and all
this is related to the transference of knowledge…We’ve always been engaged with the
relationship between what we are researching and the audiences that are receiving it”
In some instances the very nature of the activity contains within it both intellectual and practical
knowledge, basic and applied knowledge and also the sense of an exchange relationship between
the producers and consumers of cultural experience. In this sense we can see that aspect of the
Triple Helix in which different modes of knowledge production sit alongside (and even within)
Institutions were also highly sensitised to how the concept of knowledge exchange might be seen
as combining a range of agendas with, interestingly, a key role for students. As one institutional
“Well I think it‘s used at the moment in probably three or so different ways and I don’t think
they’re mutually exclusive. One obviously is a question of third stream and income
generation and that’s the most difficult to address. The other is around, increasingly now,
around the idea of the other end of the spectrum if you want to call it, is to do with student
enterprise and sort of developing notions of what we mean by student enterprise what with
the Leitch Report and questions to do with employability” (Executive Leader)
The paper has tried to test the value of engaging with the existing models and literature on
knowledge engagement and platforms for its support across academia, industry and public policy
in relation to the arts and humanities research. In particular, it has explored the practice of
academics in arts and humanities through the lens of the Triple Helix model, to further unfold a
complex network of stakeholders and dynamics that have so far received very little attention in the
The Triple Helix framework has enabled us to highlight the role played by public policy in the
creative economy and the specific nature – often small and fragmented – of the creative industries
themselves to better understand the long-established but often informal interconnections with
higher education in general and specially arts and humanities. While the informality and
unstructured nature of most of the relationships described in the paper might seem to contradict
some of formal structure and dynamics described by Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff in their research
on the triple helix, these appear only as superficial incongruities.
As Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (2000) suggest, the Triple Helix describes not only the relationship
between university, industry and government, but also the forms of internal transformations that
can occur within these different spheres. In this respect it can be clearly argued that the model can
be seen to be at work in the CCI sector and has a role in promoting a better understanding of how
arts and humanities based disciplines are engaging in knowledge transfer and exploitation activities
with the wider CCIs sector. It can help researchers and academics to appreciate the dynamics of
these relationships alongside those they create for teaching and researching. These relationships
point to knowledge sharing, economic impact, knowledge spill-overs and local economic
development, although much of it happen through experimentation, fluid structures and
interconnection rather than formal platforms for interactions.
From our interviews we received two broad conclusions, each with particular detail sensitised to
the relative institutional positions of the personnel interviewed and, by ideas about institutional
mission. The first is that diversity characterises the ways that universities have taken on the ‘CCI
proposition’ as expressed through various forms of engagement or knowledge exchange between
the research base and ‘knowledge’ users: this is a complex knowledge creation-practice dynamic.
The second is that the nature of the interactions undertaken as a result and the ways in which they
are valued are heavily mediated by what might be described as system and institutional realities (of
funding, organisational structure, institutional culture and tradition) and disciplinary cultures
(shared ideas across the academic-practice nexus about such matters as artistic credibility,
professional repute, disciplinary values and norms). These mediating features persist as political
and organisational realities in spite of attempts by policy-makers and funders to persuade
universities and academics to adapt their behaviours and priorities in the direction of knowledge
exploitation and application.
However, on the basis of our interview work at ten UK universities there are a number of
considerations that universities and wider public policy need to make if they are to engage with this
sector in a productive way. They have to consider whether and how their own processes of
knowledge production and dissemination are appropriate for the creative industries. In a sector
where tacit knowledge plays such a crucial role, this and other forms of un-traded interdependency
in regional development point to the need for universities to examine their own role in the creation
and circulation of knowledge. Equally, whilst public policy appears to be pro-active in the
promotion of regional development strategies incorporating the CCIs, what it might also need to
consider more specifically are the characteristics of innovation in this sector and in particular its
social dynamics, especially in relation to the role of tacit knowledge. The cultural and creative
industries in particular trade heavily on the role of social interaction and as, Nevarez (2003) claims,
universities may make more appropriate ‘chambers of commerce’ for the creative industries than
those of the traditional variety.
The key question for the arts and humanities disciplines concerns their relationship with new
paradigms of knowledge production. Far from being an ill-fitting exceptional case in the
knowledge economy, it may be that the interactions between the arts and humanities research base
in higher education and the CCIs is actually defining and giving meaning to new knowledge
exchange processes through new forms of organisation, partnership, transdisciplinarity,
accountability and reflexivity - new contexts of knowledge creation and diffusion. The heuristics of
the Triple Helix provide a valuable opportunity to map this landscape and to open a new dialogue
about the nature of knowledge production, transfer and exploitation in a sector that is in the process
of rapid transformation. However, what this may signal is a growing expansion of the function of
university research rather than necessarily a re-orientation of its purpose. To that end we see the
moves being made by universities to shed their historic hidden protagonist guise and take on the
mantle of active regional agents, not as a re-functionalisation but as an assimilation of ostensibly
new agendas to historic regimes of value derived from the academy as a particular kind of
This paper has opened the way for more of this debate to take place; we feel that there are a
number of interesting venues still to research. Firstly, while recent publications (Universities UK
2010; AHRC 2011) have explored the attitude and practice of arts and humanities academics
towards external engagement, there is still very limited knowledge about the user-led engagement
and the attitude of creative industries towards academia. Secondly, public and governmental
organisations have been essential in providing support towards the development of creative
industries, however, they have been slower in bridging academic research to the creative economy
and creating collaborative frameworks. A better understanding of the role played by policy in
supporting these creative connections is needed. Finally, the role of the engaged academic and
specifically in the creative fields of the teaching practitioner is a key characteristic of the arts and
humanities and need to be better understood.
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