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Twente Policy Development and Integration


1.       Starting situation

The problem of ‘brain drain’ has been on the political agenda in the Twente region for more than ten years. Till the 1960’s Twente was a mono-economy that was strongly based on textile and machine building. In the 1960’s, as one of the answers to the loss of the  textile production to low wage countries, a regional university was founded. This historic development of the region had a number of consequences:

–          the presence of the university, that profiled itself as an entrepreneurial university, led to a focus on high tech, regional innovation and university spin offs;

–          the region is still relatively strong in ‘production industries’ ;

–          the region has a relatively low level of education.

Although the region has his own research and applied science universities many students leave for the core regions in the west of the Netherlands. This is a general problem of peripheral regions that are seen as less attractive compared with these core region. Nevertheless for Twente this meant a mismatch between the need for highly qualified workforce given the regional ambition of being a high tech, innovative region and the brain drain and present level of education in the region. This general problem is most strongly felt in times of economic boom when the pull factors from the core region are extra strong. But there is a general understanding among public and private actors that the region has to work on reducing the brain drain, producing more human capital and attract people from outside the region. During the last ten years different strategies were formulated, collectively or individually, by private and public partners. These strategy processes do not only have different actors involved but also have different angles on brain flow problems.

There is a strong link in the Twente region between innovation strategies and brain flow strategies. As a follow up to the Lisbon agreements the national government wanted in 2003 to be among the leading European countries in the area of higher education, research and innovation. To implement this ambition a so-called National Innovation Platform chaired by the Prime Minister was created with as a major task is to develop strategies for the development and exploitation of knowledge. The Platform is to propose concrete actions to the government, who in its turn will create means to implement these. In these actions Twente is labelled as one of the most important innovative regions in the Netherlands who receives extra money to invest in innovation stimulating measures. In 2004 the Provincial Government of Overijssel and the Network City Twente set up the Regional Innovation Platform Twente (independent from the national one), which represents regional industry and higher education, and had the objective to present Twente as a top technological region. The ‘Innovation jump Twente’ is the latest regional approach to innovation in the region Twente for the period 2012-2015. In this new agenda innovation is strongly focussed on one economic cluster, called top sector in national economic policy, ‘high tech systems and materials’.

The regional ambition of being an innovative region was in Twente early on linked with the problem of enough human capital, from the idea if we that If the region wants to further develop, we need the right people. The idea of necessity of human capital for the knowledge economy is also part of the Lisbon process, but his was not really brought to the level of the regions. What is specific for the Twente region is that it has strong policy and issue networks of private and public actor and a tradition in collective problem solving. Getting the right people is not only seen as a problem for individual organisations nor as a government problem of organising education to fulfil the demand of the labour market and the economy.


2.       Strategies

We limit ourselves here to the more or less formal strategies that produce separate strategy documents or parts of documents:

–          human capital agenda Twente;

–          human capital agenda Top sector policy;

–          municipal and regional economic plans and labour market plans

Three other initiatives we mention here have more the character of business plans for chosen solutions than strategies, namely the Career Centre Twente initiative, the expat centre and the foundation Region branding Twente.

Human capital route and agenda Twente

The development of this main strategy document follows from initiatives to react on the changing economic reality. In the region Twente the business community, the( higher) education institutes and local government and national politicians from Twente meet in so called regular Twente Top meetings. This top coordinates the activities of the different stakeholders in for instance lobbying towards Ten Hague and Brussels for the Twente region. In the framework of the Twente Top a so-called an informal Taskforce Economy was formed to fight the consequences of the economic crisis for Twente  by intensifying cooperation between the four economic pillars (entrepreneurs, government, education and research). This taskforce economy wanted to ensure a good coordination and connection of the various initiatives of the actors in the four pillars. The taskforce started looking for short and longer term measures to strengthen the Twente economy. The theme “positioning of Twente in the Battle for Brains” was chosen as one of the action point by the task force for her agenda. The taskforce has no own budget, and has no formal decision power and has to rely on the administrative capacity from the participating organizations. During the discussion and on initiative of the coordinating member for this action point from the taskforce (rector of the Saxion school for professional higher education) the process towards a regional strategy on human capital in Twente was renamed the ‘Human capital route’. The Human capital route is complementary to the before mentioned Innovation route in the Twente region. The Human capital Route is complementary because it’s goal  is to provide the Innovation route with enough higher educated. As mentioned in the description of the starting situation recently the province Overijssel, the region Twente,  the business community in Twente and the education and  knowledge institutes prepared their plans for a new innovation plan titled  ‘Innovation Jump Twente’. This plan asks for an intensive collaboration between business, government, education and research for the region Twente to develop the region to one of the top innovation regions in the Netherlands. This also asks for human capital. So part of the focus of the strategy is to secure enough human capital for the region. In the summer of 2012 a so-called human capital agenda was be developed. In the analyses was found that the high-tech companies currently experience little shortages but expect quantitative and qualitative deficit on the labor market in the future. As a solution these companies see for themselves a role in particular in participating in education: in the primary, secondary, further and higher education. In addition, the approach is mainly aimed at recruiting and retaining highly educated.


Human Capital in top sectors

Top sectors are economic clusters identified and prioritised on the national level. In this top sector policy an explicit link is made between innovation and human capital. To be able to realize the ambitions of a top sector sufficient people with required qualities are necessary. The top sectors anticipate on (future) shortages, particular in the natural sciences, by developing a top sector based long term human capital strategy which is about interesting people for the specific sector, increasing the attractiveness of the particular sector and coordinating education and demand for labour in these sectors. The human capital agenda for the top sectors contain an analysis of the need for human capital in the top sector and a common vision on the education.  The agenda also lays down the agreements the public/private sector plans and cooperation between employers and education institutions, such as the centers of expertise. Twente was the pilot regions for the top sector ‘high tech systems and materials’.

Municipal and regional economic policy and labour market plans

As explained above, typically for Twente is it duality between demand and supply of skilled people in the labour market. At the one hand historically Twente is a strong industrial production region. Although part of this production, like textile, moved away to other low wage countries relatively to the national average the Twente employees work in relative lower skill professions and are relatively less educated. At the other hand the region is strong in innovative high tech firms and spin offs of the university. Therefore more and more Twente employers seem to be searching for relatively high skill employees. The skills required for their vacancies are often above Dutch average. In the nearby future, this need for higher educated might be growing given by the ambitions the Dutch national government and the regional authorities have with the Twente region. And although there is a strong presence of higher education institutes the stock of human capital in terms of percentage of higher educated stock in Twente is relatively small compared to other regions.

In Dutch we refer to two sides of the labour market as the top and the bottom side. These two sides of the labour market have their own problems. At the top side the problem is finding enough higher educated for the regional economic ambitions. At the bottom side the problem is how to find jobs for the relatively, lower educated. The problem of a dual labour market is particular felt in the three main cities in Twente, Enschede, Hengelo and Almelo. In these cities there are many people in the database of the labour office for own it is difficult to find a suitable job.

Particular in the city of Enschede also the problem of a lack of human capital, the top side of the labour market, was addressed. By trying to increase the level of human capital in the city the municipality did not only want to solve the issue of human capital as a condition for innovation and economic growth but also the issue economic and social vitality of the city. Jobs for higher educated correlate also with economic buying power and social capital, because higher educated form an important backbone of society.

Because of its weak social-economic structure the municipality of Enschede had as a goal to retain and attract higher educated to the city since the nineties of the last century. The municipality basically addressed two mechanism. One mechanism was to make the city more attractive to live in for higher educated, who strongly correlate with high income inhabitants. Apart from general attractiveness policies in terms of cultural facilities and shopping areas they also addressed housing. If people don’t want to live in a city but just want to work there, it contributes less to the local economy. The second mechanism was to create a knowledge intensive economy that would create more jobs for higher educated, who would come to the city, and simultaneous  for lower skilled jobs. economic policies to create infrastructure and conditions for a knowledge intensive economy. In the end this should not only lead to more jobs for the higher educated but also jobs for the lower educated. This second mechanism was called the ‘chimney-principle’ , if the chimney smokes at the top, it pulls at the bottom. This idea was also part of the basis for the collaboration with other regional partners (municipalities, business, knowledge institutes) in the for mentioned innovation platform and the knowledge park Twente. The Twente region was relatively successful in creating knowledge jobs, but the effect on the bottom side of the labour market is difficult to show. One of the problems is that high tech spin offs only grow slowly, and are more in need for additional higher educated than for low educated jobs. The high tech sector does not lead to much lower skilled production work yet. The low skilled jobs that are there in the region are relatively vulnerable, production can be moved to low wage countries. In the time of economic boom employment was raising, but there seem s to a part of the low skilled unemployed that can only be very difficult helped to a job.

Like all regions in the Netherlands the region Twente makes regional labour plans, based on the cooperation between education, business and government. In these plans  the bottom side of the labour market gets the most attention. All kind of measures are developed to lead people back to the labour market. In these plans the top side gets less attention. Higher educated are often not in the databases of the employment offices. In general there is the idea that higher educated should find a job themselves and not through employment offices, the have the their own ‘vacancy’ system which is difficult to address in a labour plan.

Economic motor twente

On the initiative of network city of Twente (Almelo, Borne, Hengelo, Enschede and Oldenzaal) a process is started to explore the opportunities and possibilities for an economically stronger and more sutainable Twente. The five aldermen of the network Economy cities have the belief that by working together the economic engine of Twente is supercharged. Therefore, entrepreneurs, educational institutions and Government join forces for the development of an economic vision.    ‘ A Twente: 20Twente with focus and ambition ‘ the economic vision for Twente developed in collaboration with more than 100 entrepreneurs, administrators, civil servants and representatives of knowledge and educational institutions. This is the result of the ‘ Twente ‘ economic engine came about during the unique workshop on 4 and 5 July 2012 with inspiring input from those who want to make a difference in the ‘ Twente ‘ region. There were many ideas developed for an even more successful during engine developed to put the economy in high gear.


A number of other human capital initiatives in Twente are more solution than strategy oriented and have the character of business plans for these solutions; the Career Centre Twente imitative, the expat centre and  region branding Twente.

Career Center Twente is a partnership between prominent employers in the Twente region. The aim is to inform highly educated people about Twente and to stimulate them to settle and work in the area.

The foundation regiobranding Twente

The foundation was established at the end of 2010 and to brand the Twente region by  initiating, stimulate and facilitate connections between parties at the corporate level, so the Twente brand is loaded and connected to all products and services in the ‘ Twente ‘ region.  The foundation sees as its goal to position Twente position top technological, entrepreneurial and innovative knowledge region in the world and convince residents, students and entrepreneurs manages to retain in or move to Twente.

Expat Center Twente

The Expat Center Twente is an initiative of the World Trade Center Twente in Hengelo and supported by the municipalities of Almelo, Borne, Enschede, Hengelo and Oldenzaal. The Expat Center is located within the World Trade Center Twente in Hengelo and provides services for highly skilled migrants – expats. Within the Twente Region, which is in the East of the Netherlands, there are many international companies and therefore there are a lot of expats within the Twente Region. With the Expat Center, the World Trade Center Twente has fulfilled the need of an organization, where expats can find answers to their questions and where they can be helped with the procedures, when coming to the Eastern part of the Netherlands.