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The Geography of Higher Education – How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the role of HEIs vis-à-vis their ecosystems and networks



The Geography of Higher Education – How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the role of HEIs vis-à-vis their ecosystems and networks


19 June 2020, at 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm CET


What is the impact of the current Covid-19 pandemic on higher education institutions (HEIs) and, in particular, on their capacity to cooperate with their stakeholders? What are the structural changes in higher education that will emerge from this crisis? Can the HEIs help regenerate their own ecosystems, once the pandemic will be over or under control?

These are some questions the series of webinars “The geography of higher education” (GoHE) has tried to answer. The OECD, in collaboration with ERIA, has hosted this international policy dialogue involving speakers from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

In all countries, increasingly higher education Institutions are playing an active role within their ecosystems and networks. They produce knowledge, and contribute to the well-being of their communities by generating cultural amenities, advanced services – including medical care – as well as open science and open innovation. HEIs cooperate with the public sector, including at the local and regional level, to handle societal and environmental challenges. In the same vein, HEIs can contribute to entrepreneurship and to the innovation capacity of firms of different sizes and ages.

Experts participating in the webinar series – while highlighting that not all interactions have a spatial dimension – have discussed the importance of proximity for HEIs to engage in knowledge exchange and collaboration activities with stakeholders, including during the pandemic. Importantly, knowledge exchange and collaboration activities may not come naturally to all HEIs and cannot be done at the margin of other HEIs’ mission.  They require specific incentives, funding, institutions, and professional figures that promote the entrepreneurial and innovative agenda in higher education.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the connections between HEIs and their ecosystems. Many HEIs have reorganised their activities, to face the new challenge. Teaching has been moved on-line. A stronger link between basic and applied research has emerged, due to the pressing need to respond to the health crisis. HEIs have found new ways to support and collaborate with their local communities and national governments. Going forward, HEIs may need to better understand the language and needs of firms of different sizes and ages. A better understanding of the business environment can help improving teaching to provide students with flexibility, autonomy, accountability, and – more in general – with a “learning-to-learn” attitude. All HEIs, in all sectors and fields, need to embrace a digital paradigm, which should orient their missions and activities. Entrepreneurial, innovative and digital HEIs can collect granular information and generate data flows (while respecting privacy) and, in reverse, providing individuals with tailored information and learning opportunities.

Knowledge exchange and collaboration activities are multidimensional and encompass other dimensions, besides business. HEIs have been playing a pivotal role to move forward the Agenda 2030. The capacity to create interdisciplinary platforms and holistic planning is key to handle the pandemic and it will be important also in the “regeneration” phase, to promote sustainable development and inclusion, in all ecosystems once the pandemic is over or under control.

In general, entrepreneurial and innovative HEIs could become hubs within territorial networks generating information, skills and support for policies, including sustainable, smart, regional development and well-being.



  • Denis Gauvreau, Polytechnique of Montréal
  • Juan Carlos Navarro, Inter-American development bank (IADB)
  • Andrés Rodriguez Pose, London School of Economics and Political Science

Introduction and closing remarks : Lucia Cusmano, OECD

Hosts: Giulia Ajmone Marsan, ERIA – Raffaele Trapasso, OECD


To register to this webinar please use this link: https://meetoecd1.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJArdu6rqj4iGNBwQOy5DNg9AZj2DAPsjOun   


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