Is higher education more important for firms than research? Disentangling university spillovers

Andrea Bonaccorsi, Laura Barin, Paola Bellingheri, Federico Biagi , Mabel Sanchez Barrioluengo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper is the first attempt to integrate microdata on universities and firms across most European countries in order to disentangle the impact of knowledge spillovers from human capital (graduates) and intellectual capital (codified research output) on the performance of firms. Data cover all Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) registered in the official European Tertiary Education Register (ETER). Data on performance of firms are from ORBIS and refer to change in the 2011-2015 period in turnover, total assets, intangible assets, and employment. Firms are georeferred and the spillovers from all HEIs located at a given distance are summed and integrated. The findings suggest that, among knowledge spillovers, the creation of human capital via education of students has a larger impact than the circulation of research knowledge. Moreover, the two factors seem to be complements rather than substitutes. Spatial proximity is important for embodied knowledge spillovers (i.e. educated people), while for codified and disembodied spillovers (citations to publications) the spatial dimension is less relevant. The findings have important managerial and policy-making consequences.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Technology Transfer
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2023


  • Knowledge spillovers
  • Human capital externalities
  • Higher education institutions
  • Firm growth
  • Graduates
  • Citations


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