Current EU policies prioritise supporting national and regional R&D activities and innovation systems. In particular, Cohesion Policy transformed into national Structural Funds (SF) Operational Programmes aim to foster local level innovation. At the same time, the discussion on universities’ ‘third mission’ has expanded and the role of universities has become crucial both in regional innovation strategy formulation and implementation of these strategies, which partly guide the access to local SF funding. However, binding the third mission to interaction with regional industry and fostering regional entrepreneurship and economic growth is not uncomplicated. This is also the case with university-led SF projects, though they can enable matching research better with local priorities. Through a case study of the University Consortium of Pori, a multi-disciplinary higher education network located in a peripheral region of Satakunta in Western Finland, this paper investigates how entrepreneurial universities can manage and deliver their third mission through Structural Funds programmes in a rural region. The tentative findings reveal individual researchers’ strong commitment to regional engagement, but the implementation of SF projects remains challenging for Finnish universities because of institutional issues, higher education policies focusing on traditional academic outputs and the strict guidelines of SF funding. Only strategically planned university-led SF projects can generate synergies between teaching, research and engagement activities, which is not easily achieved without a strong engagement of the university management. As the SF programmes are heavily dependent on the regional context, further comparative studies on university-led SF projects could provide more insights on the ways the third mission activities can be delivered and managed more efficiently.
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