The Borderless Campus: The Final Frontier.

How to anchor productivity in times of Brexit: The importance of “intellectual capital flows” within and beyond Hertfordshire.

Julie Newlan
University of Hertfordshire

Nigel Culkin
University of Hertfordshire

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Hertfordshire’s economy generates output approaches £34bn, measured as Gross Value Added (GVA). As such, Hertfordshire’s “economic engine” is important to the future prosperity of the UK and is defined by its 58,000 enterprises and their employees. It is enabled by the University of Hertfordshire (UH), four FE Colleges, ten local authorities and the many other organisations and institutions with an interest in its economic performance and prospects. Hertfordshire functions across a polycentric blend of urban and rural, much of it within the metropolitan green belt, adjacent to a world city, London.

Hertfordshire’s “economic engine” performs well on certain metrics, but not on others. Its assets should attract the interests of a World Champion F1 driver, but challenges exist that need addressing, particularly in relation to all aspects of its “efficiency,” which stakeholders recognize as vital with regard to sustainability. Such observations reflect the limited productivity growth, which has been seen across Hertfordshire over the last decade, and the “productivity puzzle” – namely the failure of productivity growth to return to pre-recession levels – is pronounced.

With substantial and unique agglomeration advantages, London performs strongly: GVA per hour worked was notably higher than elsewhere at the start of the period, and it grew at over 2.6% per annum over the decade (which was faster than the national average). Conversely, productivity in Hertfordshire grew at 1.3% per annum, the lowest rate among any of the comparators. Even without Brexit, productivity matters: it is the only sustainable route to higher living standards, and it is the core measure of economic efficiency (Herts LEP, 2017).

Despite continued Government interest and support for business start-ups in the UK, the University of Hertfordshire took the decision to cease its provision of general-purpose dedicated innovation and incubation space. The objective was to respond to the region’s “productivity puzzle,” by literally ‘opening up’ its offer in terms of physical boundaries; while at the same time extending access beyond graduate entrepreneurs to a wider enterprise community that would value on-campus ambience and facilities.

We discuss the UH activities, outcomes and (emerging) impacts within Frederick Jackson Turner’s 'Frontier Thesis', which stresses the process, the moving frontier line, and the impact it had on pioneers in constructing a framework, for understanding the UK university campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem (Mitra and Berg, 2018).

The authors also draw inspiration from Miller and Acs’ Case Study (University of Chicago) that suggested the open, innovative American frontier that closed at the end of the twentieth century has re-emerged in the entrepreneurial economy on the U.S. campus. We explore the potential impact of the contemporary campus entrepreneurial ecosystem, one that offers the characteristics of Turner’s frontier: available assets, liberty, and diversity while creating opportunity, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation (Miller and Acs, 2017).

As an experiential learning project, we reflect on findings from the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) that very few firms contribute to productivity growth (often referred to as high-growth or scale-up firms). Both nationally and regionally, such firms have had a disproportionate impact on job creation - crucial to the growth of a UK economy - that will soon have to come to terms with surviving alongside, if not, outside the European Union. As a result, we argue that it may be pragmatic to focus on the means to create a local-growth pipeline and monitor the ecosystem’s development, over time to help unpick the “productivity puzzle”. Tracking cohorts - from our institution-wide experiential learning project - as they engage in a range of activities that prepares them for future growth may be a more meaningful focus for post-Brexit, regional business support policy development (ERC, 2018).