In a focus on social cohesion and learning regions, it seems inevitable that some consideration should be given to the role of universities. Higher education institutions (HEIs) are ideally placed, geographically speaking, to offer to the lives of the people around them cultural experiences to which they may not normally have access via their own social networks – and the communities living and working in and around the HEIs are also well positioned to reciprocate. But it would seem that for HEIs, research – central though it is to their function – does not begin at home. It is not easy to locate findings on the outcomes of their interactions with the communities in their immediate vicinity, and even more difficult at a regional level. Add to this the nebulous nature of the impact of cultural presence, and the all-pervading policy drivers of social inclusion, regeneration and regional development, and it soon becomes evident that to come to any conclusions on the evidence available relating to the impact of HEIs’ ‘cultural presence’ on disadvantaged communities, requires some investigation.