The roles of universities have evolved over the last twenty years. Universities were once regarded as focusing on two key roles - teaching and research - which were exogenous to, and independent from, specific economic and social development imperatives. Today, it is increasingly recognised that universities perform important roles as enablers, even leaders, of regional economic and social development and in regional innovation systems; which has been captured in the notion of a third role for universities. This paper explores the nature of the third role of universities in the Australian setting as it applies to human capital formation. The roles of universities in this regard is categorised as being either generative or developmental in nature, based on the triple helix model of university, industry, government relations and the emerging literature on university engagement. This categorisation is explored using three case studies of non core-metropolitan universities. The study explores the nature of the roles performed by the universities in human capital formation and considers possible explanations of variation in the roles performed.