This study examines the interaction between universities and other sectors of society, with an emphasis on the local and civic aspects of that interaction. The changes wrought by the knowledge economy have challenged the boundaries between higher education and other fields. As higher education has become less sheltered from external influences, the interactions between universities and other organisations have moved from the periphery to the centre of higher education. The aim of the research was to investigate universities’ external relations: to whom they connect, how the connections are formed, and what results from those connections. The study’s findings suggest that each university’s external relations need to be understood in their local and civic context, that national policy is still important and not reducible to the global and economic. There is significant interplay between the global, national and local levels, and between the dynamics of different fields. Universities both shape and are shaped by their environments. A university’s autonomy can be both enhanced and diminished by external interactions.