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Twente

The Twente region could be viewed as a typical ‘brain drain’ area. The region, the Eastern part of the province of Overijssel bordering with Germany, hosts a large number of educational institutions, at vocational and academic levels. While most students come from the own region, the main academic institution, the University of Twente, also attracts student from the rest of the Netherlands, and from Germany. The university specialises in technical studies, and appeals to outsiders because of the quality of the degrees in combination with the provisions for students. It is the only University in the Netherland that provides new students with accommodation. After graduation, however, many students tend to leave []. A key reason for this is the lack of employment opportunities within the region itself, and this problem is particularly pressing for couples in which both partners are seeking specialised types of work. The travel distance towards core employments centres, such as the Randstad, is too long to facilitate easy commuting. Moreover, the region is lacking in amenities, notably urban amenities. The University of Twente is located on a campus between Enschede and Hengelo, two old industrial cities lacking the ‘voie-de-vivre’ that can be found in student cities such as Utrecht, Amsterdam or even Delft. Comparable ‘non-core’ cities such as Maastricht and Groningen do much better in that respect, of which only the latter manages to hold on higher level of graduates.

The key response of the region to these conditions is to improve employment opportunities, with ‘talent’ as both a major vehicle and goal. Typically for Twente is its dual labour market. At the one hand, historically, Twente is a strong industrial production region. Part of this production, like textile, moved away to other low wage countries. At the other hand the region is strong in innovative high tech firms and spin offs of the university. Although there is a strong presence of higher education institutes we may conclude that the human capital stock in Twente is relatively small. The Twente employees work in relative low skill professions and are relatively uneducated. A similar remark can be made about the Twente inhabitants. They are relatively uneducated compared to their nationwide counterparts. The Twente employers, however, seem to be searching for relatively high skill employees. The skills required for the vacancies they put out are 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. The Twente educational system does not seem to have an answer to this discrepancy. Of the University of Twente graduates a disproportional number of graduates seek their employment outside the region.

A central goal in the region’s policies is “To retain and attract highly-educated people” {}. The region’s key economic challenged are clearly defined in terms of acquiring, nurturing and holding on to talent. Over the last decade, the main discourse has shifted somewhat from a concern about ‘brain drain’ to an interest in ‘brain circulation’. While mobility is considered as an inevitable, and even desirable phenomenon, what is important is to achieve and maintain a positive balance.

Typical for Twente are also its strong networks were government, business and knowledge institutes work closely together. The problem of a lack of human capital is addressed by different regional and local actors and in different actor constellations, notably through:
– the joint-up economic policies of the larger municipalities, particular of the largest municipality Enschede;
– a provincial coalition were the province, knowledge institutes and municipalities work closely together to create an infrastructure for the knowledge industry;
-the business community itself, for instance through the Career Centre;
-the university by creating spinoffs and higher education jobs, for instance through the so-called TOP‐program encouraging graduates of the university to start their own knowledge‐based companies (already existing since 1984, supported by ESF/EFRO);
– individual employment sectors; the example discussed here is the care sector;
– the educational sector: for instance through (vertical) coordination between educational institutes to decrease the barriers between successive educational levels;
– the region’s leading informal collaboration the so‐called Twente ‘TOP‐meeting’, attended by representatives by government, business, knowledge institutes and the educational sector to coordinate activities and to lobbying for regional causes.

If we map Twente’s activities onto the seven dimensions, various strengths emerge. As described, the region’s strategic orientation is strongly geared towards improving its attractiveness combined with internal growth mechanisms. The latter include spin-offs, as well as a series of initiatives geared towards clustering. The latter is focused on three kinds of activities: high-tech (notably nano-technology), materials () and health (). This is closely connected to labour market policies, the boosting of entrepreneurships and joint ventures and collaboration in the field of innovation. Labour market policies seek to bridge the gap between different levels of education. Different educational institutes, joined in the so-called ‘Linx’ network, support the development of a streamlined educational supply chain, from lower vocational education, through intermediate vocational education, to higher vocational education. Specific measures are the search of excellence at the lower tiers, introducing students to higher education and the organisation of a combined school year between intermediate and higher professional education to facilitate the transition. In the context of the ‘Twente TOP‐meetings’, moreover, an informal economic taskforce has been established contributing to the so‐called ‘Human Capital Route’, with as key aim the ‘positioning of Twente in the Battle for Brains ‘. The taskforce has started to coordinate the talent-oriented activities of its members, in alignment with the so‐called ‘Innovation Route’. It has also successfully lobbied for additional resources from the national government. With respect to quality of life, apart from generic measures to improve the urban milieu and provisions, there is a specific interest in promoting Enschede as a student city and a city for higher educated, by encouraging students to live downtown, and by special housing programmes.

Policy structure
Policy responses take all forms distinguished above, from strategic regional plans, to domain-specific strategies (called ‘Routes’), to programming (responding to European, national and provincial opportunities) and a large number of projects. These are accompanied, moreover, by a large variety of alliances and associations.

Policy domains
In summary, Twente does not have an overall framework programme to deal with ‘brain drain’ and ‘talent’ issues. It manifests, nevertheless, a wide range of activities which, in a loose way, hang together. It appears to benefit strongly from the role of the university, its industrial past, opportunities offered by public-private collaboration, and the articulation of a common vision spawning a number of strategic ‘routes’, aimed at the labour market, education and business support. Although the various programmes and projects are in different phases of development, there is also a capacity to translate visions into practical projects and measures. Some of the older programmes, notably those encouraging spin-off from university education, and also some clustering initiatives, have met some important results. The strategic approach is aimed at attractiveness and retaining talent.