The third UNICREDS (University Collaboration in Regional Development Spaces) conference recently took place in Scotland to discuss how universities can benefit rural communities.
Located in the beautiful surroundings at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye, the conference on 7 June brought together delegates from six European countries to debate and question the role of universities in rural communities, with particular focus on how universities can drive smart specialisation in regional development and boost the local economy.
Professor Norman Sharp OBE (pictured right), the former director of higher education quality assurance agency QAA Scotland, delivered the keynote speech, reflecting on the direct and indirect ways in which a university can provide the lifeblood of development for rural communities and economies. He said: “This important conference provides a valuable opportunity for experts from across Europe to consider the potentially vital role that universities have in supporting rural development.”
The conference was led by the Combined Universities in Cornwall. As well as keynote speeches and presentations on best practice case studies from Cornwall and the Czech Republic, the event also included a panel debate involving speakers from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, The Highland Council and UHI principal and vice-chancellor James Fraser, amongst others.
James Fraser, UHI, and Nigel Hewitt, CUC, talking at the UNICREDS conference
Nicolas Wallet, Project Manager for UNICREDS, comments: “This conference marks the halfway point for the three-year UNICREDS project and with each event that takes place we collate more ‘best practice’ experiences that will inform policy recommendations to help other regions facing similar issues.”
All the regions involved with UNICREDS share similar characteristics, such as distance from major cities, population demographics, and reliance on declining traditional industries. UNICREDS partners share real life experiences and knowledge of how the challenges of an underperforming economy can be overcome and how deprived or peripheral regions can be transformed into centres of excellence in research and innovation. The project includes partners at different stages of the journey towards solving these problems.
This is the third UNICREDS conference and the findings and case studies presented at the event will feed into policy recommendations that will be submitted to the European Commission. Each of the conferences has looked at a different element under the overarching theme of developing high value, knowledge-based economies in peripheral regions, through partnerships between universities, business and the public sector.