The Government’s White Paper on Enterprise, Skills and Innovation (DTI and DfEE, 2001) requires Regional Development Agencies to develop their cluster strategies further, to include partnerships involving higher education. This paper examines these policy intentions in relation to northern England, and incorporates the results of in-depth interviews with policy-makers from RDAs, DTI, DfES and northern Government Offices. Early cluster development has evidently been influenced by existing sector development strategies and the need for inclusivity in regional partnerships. Clusters have been defined broadly, but engagement with universities has required greater focus on specific regional expertise. The authors question the merit of pursuing specialised clusters in isolation at a regional scale; more effective engagement at interregional level is suggested for developing effective cluster strategies.