The journal Regional Studies recently published a special issue about the role of the university in regional development. In the introductory article, Paul Benneworth and Rune Dahl Fitjar highlight the tension being experienced nowadays by universities in reconciling the expectations raised by their different missions as a way of responding to the conditionality associated with the funding of their different activities, among which is research.

Specifically, the authors draw attention to the contradictions arising from the pressure on the part of universities to become international and demonstrate a research capacity par excellence, while at the same time helping to address local challenges being faced by the territories that play host to them. Meeting this last-mentioned expectation is no easy task within a complex scenario in which global agendas overlap with local ones and in which taking on certain challenges means that a whole range of actors will need to develop a shared view.  

Orkestra is a research institute that came into being within a university as a collaborative project with companies and governments, with the specific mission of having an impact on the territory within the area of competitiveness in order to foster wellbeing. In that context, we are immersed in a major reflection process. Within the framework of the project “Competitiveness at the service of inclusive, sustainable wellbeing”, we have been working with a group of Latin American universities to firstly define what we understand by competitiveness at the service of inclusive, sustainable wellbeing, and secondly, how each university may work to foster such an approach to competitiveness.

With a view to tackling the first objective, we have started to review different approaches such as the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the Social Progress Imperative, the United Nations Agenda 2030 and other frameworks such as those put forward by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Boston Consulting Group, and have ended up with the following preliminary definition of inclusive, sustainable wellbeing:

The university may facilitate reflection with a view to pursuing collective action in which companies, public administrative bodies, knowledge agents and citizens are co-responsible in the search for inclusive, sustainable wellbeing. 

"It is the result of a systematic, dynamic process whereby all members of society ensure their human needs are comprehensively covered and may fully be able to develop their potential as individuals, via the collaborative and sustainable building among all actors from their community of the future they wish for their territory over time and in solidarity with the rest of the planet’s inhabitants".

To tackle the second objective, we are currently considering how the university may facilitate reflection with a view to pursuing collective action in which companies, public administrative bodies, knowledge agents and citizens may be co-responsible in the search for the greater wellbeing of individuals which may, in turn, become more inclusive and sustainable. Some of the questions we are asking are: What strategies can companies develop to foster competitiveness at the service of inclusive, sustainable wellbeing? What policies can public administrative bodies pursue? What role do citizens play?

Different voices will be sharing some of the reflections that emerge from this ongoing process on this Blog over the coming months. Thus, the following posts will be covering debates on the concepts of competitiveness and wellbeing in terms of different aspects of the definition of inclusive, sustainable development that we have shared in this post. Others will focus on strategies that companies may foster and on policies that governments may pursue. We shall also be inviting researchers from the Latin American universities with whom we are working to write their own posts about how they are linking up debates in their own territories.

Our aim is not to find all the answers, but rather, to give rise to more questions that may nurture the reflection process.  We shall be extending this process to local actors with whom we interact and shall then pursue what we learn for academic discussion. Thus, we shall be attempting to respond to the expectation raised at the start of the post.

Mari Jose Aranguren y Patricia Canto