While innovation is viewed as crucial means of promoting competitiveness of rural SMEs, rural areas can be blighted by an ‘underdeveloped innovation environment’. Perhaps due to an urban bias in innovation research, open innovation through university collaboration among rural SMEs has not been extensively examined. Using a dataset of 880 rural SMEs from the UK, the paper suggests that rural SMEs are less likely to collaborate with a university than urban SMEs. Furthermore, higher numbers of employees and export revenues have a positive influence on the propensity to collaborate with a university. In addition, collaborating with organisations such as private laboratories and public sector research institutes increases the propensity to engage in university collaboration.