Pursuing sustainable growth through an intense collaboration between universities/colleges and SME's in West-Flanders (Belgium)
The region of West Flanders scores rather low in Flanders on a number of economic indicators, such as innovation, and a number of education-related indicators such as the intake in higher education and the participation in scientific education. In order to change this situation, initiatives were taken by the province in order to reinforce the higher education as well as the socio-economic position of the region based on thorough scientific research. On the basis of the cluster theory by Porter, highlighting the importance of thematic clustering of research and socio-economic activities, analysis is made of the strengths and weaknesses of the socio-economic field as well as of the available research expertise in the higher education institutions; this in close collaboration with the socio-economic partners and employers/employees from the various provincial sub-regions. It resulted in a growth plan containing several thematic spearhead actions. In the elaboration of the growth plan, emphasis is laid on the coherence and mutual reinforcement of the entire innovation chain going from knowledge development to knowledge application and spreading. A concrete initiative contributing to the realization of this plan are the easily accessible expertise and services centres (LEDs) set up on the initiative of the province. Thematically, they complement the expertise present in the higher education institutions and meet the actual needs of small and medium entrepreneurs in the region. Entrepreneurs or organizations can appeal to the network for innovation questions and they can leave the elaboration to research groups. Both partners are in a win- win situation: the entrepreneur who often does not have the means for R&D can innovate after all and the research groups in the higher education institutions are given the possibility to accumulate and develop their scientific knowledge. It is clear that a close collaboration between higher education and the socio-economic field has a surplus value for both actors.
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