Can satellite university campuses support economic development in peripheral regions?

Canonica di Corteranzo hotel in Murisengo, Italy.

In a recent article, Federica Rossi and Valentina Goglio (Studies in Higher Education, 2018) discuss the economic impact of university campuses based in peripheral regions. So-called “satellite” university campuses decentralise part of an existing university’s activities, often to peripheral areas. These campuses are usually smaller and more limitedly resourced than their older, larger, and mainly urban parent universities. Hence, it might be argued that they are less efficient and that funding would be better spent in the parent institutions. At the same time, satellite campuses are uniquely placed to serve local needs, in ways that would not be possible if funds were concentrated in the parent institutions. In this paper, the authors argue that, rather than simply duplicate efforts, satellite campuses can make a qualitatively different contribution. In particular, by considering the case of a satellite university campus in the North-Western Italian region of Piedmont, they highlight the extent to which the campus makes a contribution to the economic development of its locality, which would not occur in its absence. The study involved 449 students, academics and technical-administrative staff (21% of the total population).

The most relevant contribution of the satellite campus goes towards building local human capital: the campus increases the province’s graduate population by 0.5% every year, besides retaining in the area many students who, in the absence of the satellite campus, would graduate elsewhere. The evidence suggests that students who benefit the most from the satellite campus are non-traditional students who would otherwise not have attended university: compared to the average student population, they are older, more likely to work for a living instead of relying on their families for support, and more likely to come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. This widening access contribution is particularly important in Italy, which lags behind most European countries in terms of share of the graduate population. Moreover, promoting access to university education for mature students is one of the linchpins of the continuous education strategies promoted by the EU, with respect to which Italy falls behind.

In terms of impact on the local demand for goods and services, the satellite campus has a multiplicative effect on the local economy which is, in relative terms, similar to that of longer established university campuses located in urban contexts. This impact mainly affects the service sector; importantly, there is some impact on the demand for knowledge-intensive business services. The demand for cultural, sport, and entertainment activities also increases thanks to the presence of the campus, suggesting that the campus could help to make the area more attractive to potential residents and tourists. These were, however, small-scale effects, the impact of which could increase their potential to be adequately recognised and sustained.

Finally, the satellite campus contributes to local development through researchers’ engagement with local businesses and the local community. Two main factors turn out to be crucial in promoting engagement with local stakeholders: the presence of a local funding body, which promotes research with a local focus that is able to generate local impact, and the faculty’s research specialisation on themes that are relevant to the prevalent sectors in the local economy.

The findings of this study are reported in: Rossi, F., Goglio, V. (2018) Satellite university campuses and economic development in peripheral regions, Studies in Higher Education.