Past important regional advantages have mainly consisted of geographically bound natural resources such as rivers, iron ores or oil fields. While these remain important, we can likewise observe an advancement of regional advantages which can be constructed and developed through strategies and policies, on both regional and national level. Such regional advantages include entrepreneurial & business climate, knowledge infrastructure, cultural & recreational amenities and education institutions (Asheim et al 2007; Whisler et al 2008).
Universities are especially important organisational actors for regional growth (Etzkowitz & Klofsten, 2005; Audretsch et al., 2005; Sharma et al., 2006). They support local economic development through mechanisms such as: local business communities benefit from knowledge and technology transfer; new human, knowledge, and financial resources are attracted from elsewhere; new public spaces for local conversations are provided; additional amenities, e.g. local services, are created which seems to increase the attractiveness of the region (Lester, 2005; Shapiro, 2006; Mellander & Florida, 2011). University regions attract and retain students and this is a major factor for population growth (Goldstein & Drucker, 2006; Winters, 2011a, 2011b; Haapanen & Tervo, 2011). However, the objection that research universities are not the panacea for regional development is a point of considerable debate (Doloreaux & Parto, 2004; Brulin et al., 2009).
The purpose of this paper is to study how constructed regional advantages in the form of tertiary education institutions contribute to regional development in Sweden. In particular, we focus on development indicators such as population growth, entrepreneurship, knowledge transfer, and regional income.
We use data from Swedish Agency for Higher Education and Statistics Sweden covering population in all Swedish municipalities as well as all tertiary education institutions. We use quantitative methods in order to study growth patterns in the municipalities, comparing population growth of university/university college cities with other places. Furthermore, we use qualitative methods and case studies when further investigating the processes underlying these patterns.
The findings show that that the presence of tertiary education institutions has been a major contributor to the increase in population in Swedish municipalities between 1970 to present. This implies that regional development strategies and policies aiming at building and strengthening university colleges and universities are important and viable tools for stimulating regional growth.
ERSA (European Regional Science Association) 2012 Congress, August 21-25, Bratislava, Slovakia