This paper examines the potential for engagement in local innovation activities of six rural university campus developments in the UK. A number of common narratives emerged around the tension between local educational interests, and the needs of local industry. The paper examines both the strategies of the campuses and the expectations of local partners. Whilst these new campuses have been able to add to the regional innovation systems of rural areas, they struggle with economies of scale and scope. Where disciplinary specialisation has been pursued, potential exists for engagement with niche clusters, although a long development period is required. Where campuses have focused on broad educational equity issues, engagement with business has been difficult to achieve. Overall policies to enhance rural innovation through new university campuses must be seen to be very long term strategies and not necessarily congruent with strategies to increase HE participation and equity of opportunity.