KNOWLEDGE FORMATION IN NATURAL RESOURCE BASED REGIONS IN OLD INDUSTRIALISED NATIONS: IS AN ACADEMIC DEGREE A PANACEA TO OFFSET THE IMPACT OF INDUSTRIAL RESTRUCTURING?
The Royal Institute of Technology (SWEDEN)
In old industrialised nations such as Sweden, Canada, Australia, Finland, the policy and academic discourse has in recent years centred on the presence of high-tech companies that have academic knowledge base. However, although this is certainly true, these countries have also maintained strong international competitiveness with a relative specialization in what normally is labelled “low and medium tech” industries, many of which have a knowledge base strongly related to the transformation of natural resources. Primary extraction activities e.g. mining, forestry and preparatory and processing e.g. steel making and paper and pulping account for a significant part of economic activities. These sectors are generally located outside main urban centres viewed as loci of industrial and human development. In general, they are located in regions which today are viewed as lagging in terms of knowledge formation, entrepreneurship and innovations. These regions, the new periphery often lack higher education infrastructure such as universities.
The natural resource based sectors as well as the regions that are home to theses industries have in recent decades found themselves in an industrial and policy debate which views higher education as a panacea of industrial competitiveness and regional development. This is among others manifested in the emergence of concepts such as “Knowledge Economy”, “Triple Helix” and “Innovation Systems”, Knowledge Society” etc. The underlying assumption of these concepts is that the acquisition of academic knowledge is a crucial aspect in regional as well as industrial development.
This paper puts higher education in the context of natural resource based sectors and peripheral regions in old industrialised nations. Though two case studies of natural resource rich regions in Sweden, we discuss knowledge formation and argue that although higher education plays an important role in industrial and regional development, this should be put matched with industrial needs.