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In the late 60s and early 70s, several universities were set up in various European countries with the intention of providing an alternative to established institutions of higher education. The new universities were expected, amongst other things, to experiment with new forms of leadership and management internally, give teaching and learning higher priority, and to be regional relevant institutions for the area in which they were located. The paper analyses to what extent three such university establishments: Aalborg University in Denmark, Maastricht University in the Netherlands and Tromsø University in Norway have managed to maintain and develop their alternative profile during the last thirty years. The study suggests that even though the universities in some areas have adapted to environmental pressure, they have managed to keep their profile as innovative and alternative.