Yorkshire's Universities Skilling-up the Northern Powerhouse

28th February 2017
Yorkshire’s universities high on the Westminster agenda

Senior figures from Yorkshire’s universities are heading to Westminster this week to meet with MPs and Ministers to discuss strategies and new opportunities to capitalise and develop the excellent work happening across the region to build the Yorkshire economy.

The high level delegation of business leaders and senior academics have been invited to the Houses of Parliament by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Yorkshire & Northern Lincolnshire to a meeting entitled ‘Yorkshire’s Universities: Skilling-up the Northern Powerhouse’.

The Yorkshire delegation will use the opportunity to showcase the many areas of best practice that are contributing to the success of the region, including highly successful collaborations between business and higher education that are leading to job creation and innovative product development.

The event is being sponsored by Yorkshire Universities, the membership association that represents all 12 higher education institutions in Yorkshire. Emily Wolton, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities, said: “Yorkshire’s universities have a long-standing tradition of working in partnership to provide a strong collective offer to our region’s businesses.

“The complex needs of business can be met by a regional network of universities giving access to every type of higher education provider - from large research intensives to specialist art colleges - and a full range of students across a spectrum of skills and expertise.

“Our universities play a vital role in contributing to Yorkshire’s success but more needs to be done to develop a strong regional economy. To achieve our vision we need collaboration between universities, businesses, policy makers, and local and national government.”

Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation will give the keynote address at the meeting where delegates will also hear presentations from Professor Liz Towns-Andrews, Director of Research and Enterprise, University of Huddersfield; Colin Sirett, CEO, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), University of Sheffield; Dr Dave Richards, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, University of Hull; and Brent Cheshire, Country Chairman of DONG Energy in the UK and Managing Director of DONG Energy Wind Power.

Emily Wolton added that delegates to the meeting will get a good understanding of how Yorkshire’s universities are supporting innovation and growth and will have the opportunity to explore strategies to enhance the impact of current activity. Emily said: “We will take the opportunity to highlight the role of higher education (HE) in Yorkshire for driving growth and innovation in the region and beyond.

“The speakers will highlight the important role of HE in developing highly skilled people and working with businesses to help them access the right knowledge and skills, discuss future funding models for regional growth, and examine the priorities and partnerships that are needed for the region’s future development.”

The meeting will take place on Wednesday 1st March.

Smart Specialisation

by Joanne Ennis, 25th July 2016
Blog by Joanne Ennis, Yorkshire Universities

The concept of Smart Specialisation, which originated in the United States, recognises the importance of business in generating growth within an increasingly globalised economy and as a strategy that should be replicated in public policy on innovation. It was adopted by the European Union (EU) as a precondition for accessing innovation funding through European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). The intent was to ensure local areas focused on their real strengths, rather than trying to emulate successful sectors elsewhere without the supporting infrastructure to make it work. This principle was endorsed in the government’s Smart Specialisation Strategy for England, published in April 2015. 

What is Smart Specialisation? 
Smart Specialisation is an approach to economic development which targets investment for research and innovation towards local priority sectors and strengths. It emphasises the need for business, universities and research centres, government and wider groups representing civil society to work together developing evidence-based policy and practice on innovation-led economic development. This enables regions to maximise their potential and their ability to attract funding as well as delivering better value for money. Underpinned by evidence and data, Smart Specialisation offers regions the chance to build on their comparative advantages in skills or industry, and the opportunity to work in collaboration with other localities to drive productivity and innovation. 

Smart Specialisation Hub
To support the development and implementation of Smart Specialisation strategies across England, the Smart Specialisation Hub (S3H) was established in 2015 in partnership by the Knowledge Transfer Network and the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) with funding from government, Innovate UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

Providing an advisory function, the S3H supports the effective design, delivery and alignment of EU, national and local Research and Innovation (R&I) policies. As well as facilitating local collaborations that drive and deliver specialisations the S3H aims to increase understanding of the innovation landscape, avoiding duplication between regions and helping LEPs and others to create more robust strategies and find new opportunities for business collaboration in the UK and abroad.

S3H is currently developing an observatory function of innovation assets and strengths, which aims to eventually cover all 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships in England.

Why is it important for universities? 
Universities have a key economic, social and cultural role to play within their localities, driving economic growth and prosperity through research and innovation and their contribution to higher level skills. Alongside the generation and absorption of knowledge, universities are also uniquely placed to facilitate collaboration between innovation actors and act as critical colleagues and leaders in the innovation space. Through bringing together all the elements of the knowledge triangle – research, education and innovation – and spanning boundaries, higher education institutions have immense potential to drive the local and national research and commercialisation agenda. 

As innovative institutions, universities are able to bring to bear essential attributes and activities, use their translational skills to embed growth into innovation, and act as a source of open information spreading knowledge and awareness, and working with society in their regions.

In return for active participation in local innovation strategy development, universities stand to benefit in a range of ways, including:

  • Increasing the value of the local economy: evidence-driven prioritisation of strong and growing sectors boosts a region’s economic diversity and resilience. The benefits of this can be felt by throughout the locality, and the region’s universities are no exception;
  • An opportunity to actively influence strategy, at local and ultimately national level, and help to define and deliver the priority sectors of the future;
  • The potential opportunity to diversify funding sources and take part in complementary projects;
  • And the chance to influence other universities and external actors, forging new collaborations through a mutually understood framework and acting as leaders and connection-points across regions.

The referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU may yet have implications for structural and other funds; however, the trend towards devolution seems likely to continue, which means, it will be increasingly important for localities and for universities as key stakeholders within them, to be able to clearly articulate their strengths through Smart Specialisation in a competitive funding landscape. For universities this will include continuing to work closely with LEPs, local authorities, business and civil society groups to ensure that place-based research and innovation is at the heart of regional economic development strategy.        


The role of a HERA

by Roger Lewis, 11th May 2016
Blog by Roger Lewis, Yorkshire Universities

The acronym ‘HERA’ is one of the least well-known in a sector littered with acronyms. It stands for ‘higher education regional association’ – a grouping of higher education institutions who share a geographical identity. At one time there were nine such organisations; today (depending on how you do the counting) there are, at most, only a third of that number actually functioning. Yorkshire Universities – one of the first HERAs to be set up, in the early 1990s – is very much one of that number. 

The decline in HERA numbers corresponded with the arrival to power of the coalition government and the dismantling of regional tiers of activity, notably the regional development agencies. The ‘region’ diminished in importance; previously regional activities were carried out instead by national or by local agencies (notably, in the economic sector, the local enterprise partnerships). HERAs that had tied their activities in too closely to the RDAs in particular found the ground taken from underneath their feet. 
HERAs in less well-defined regions (such as ‘the south east’) were more vulnerable than those operating in geographical areas with clear boundaries (such as ‘Yorkshire’). In our case, Yorkshire has not only strong geographical boundaries but also a proud identity by any indicator – cultural, sporting, economic, political.

What are the benefits of being a member of a HERA? The world of higher education is competitive – just as much as the world of chocolate bars or engineering. But competitors have much to gain by working together, to continue to develop their ‘product’ and to rise to challenges their markets have in common. Yorkshire’s universities are competing for students – with one another and (even more so) with universities in other parts of the country. All Yorkshire’s universities have in common the need to stay ahead of the game – to offer the best education, the best research, the best services to business.  All our universities have an interest in developing Yorkshire as a destination of choice for students. And since all are within reasonable travelling distance of one another,  it is relatively easy for members of the HERA to meet, network and work on projects.

A major selling point for Yorkshire’s HE is that it has just about every type of institution, including  three ‘Russell Group’ HEIs; big post-1992 institutions in the cities; ex-teacher-training colleges transformed into liberal arts and providers of professionals in the health and care services; and  three specialist arts colleges. And these organisations tend often to be complementary to – rather than in competition with – one another. 

It’s not only universities and students who benefit from collaboration across this range; external stakeholders also gain. Businesses for example benefit by the added value graduates bring as employees or interns, and by the services universities offer to improve productivity. HE plays a key role in fostering economic growth – hence the added value universities offer to the local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).  There are benefits too for the community – HE enhances the environment (witness the many inner city campuses with award-winning buildings) and helps build cultural life and civic identity, such as the series of open lectures, concerts and access to sporting venues many universities offer. The University of Hull was important in securing for its city the successful bid for UK City of Culture 2017. 

How are these outcomes achieved? YU uses means such as the following:

  • Vice chancellors meeting regularly as the Board; deputy and pro vice chancellors shaping strategy and ‘comparing notes’ informally
  • Practitioners sharing good practice and making new contacts (as in our networking groups on student engagement)
  • Colleagues from different universities working together on projects which would not otherwise happen, e.g. marketing directors commissioned a phone app to encourage international students to sign up for study in Yorkshire
  • Teams putting together proposals for collaborative funding which a single institution wouldn’t attract, a good example is the European-funded Yorkshire Innovation Fund, offering businesses across the region a route into the combine expertise of the region’s universities
  • Yorkshire Universities making available technical expertise to advise members on how access European funding.
So, as we put to the Board our strategic plan for 2016-2019, we are confident about the future.

Supporting disadvantaged groups through teaching excellence

by Josephine Barham, 18th March 2016
Blog by Josephine Barham, Yorkshire Universities

It is now over four months since the Higher Education (HE) Green Paper: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice was published, and almost two months since the deadline for consultation responses passed. Unsurprisingly for such a wide ranging set of reforms, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has received an estimated 600 responses from across the sector and beyond.

Much has been written about the proposals contained within the paper, and in particular on the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). There is much to be admired in the plans for the TEF, including the aspiration for teaching excellence to be embedded within our Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). With the financial burdens placed upon them, everyone would agree that students should receive the highest quality teaching, and are prepared in the best possible way to make the right choice of where to study. In particular, it is right that efforts are made to support students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups, in entering HE on an appropriate course, throughout their time in HE, and how they progress afterwards.

Although the reforms are welcome, they do present a paradox, with institutions that can effectively demonstrate value-for-money and teaching excellence being able to raise fees in-line with inflation, thus increasing the financial burden on students (including those from the most disadvantaged groups).

So how might the TEF help with the challenge of supporting disadvantaged groups in HE? Through its work on student engagement, Yorkshire Universities (YU) has been looking at this and in particular at the role of collaboration between members in ensuring positive experiences for such students at all stages in their HE life cycle, from application to post-course choices. This work may include sharing good practice across institutions to develop an inclusive approach to supporting disadvantaged students. Universities UK has recently established a Social Mobility Advisory Group, which will provide useful learning for this area including the use of data to support social mobility.

What may be more of a challenge, is how to effectively measure approaches designed to support these students. There is no one way of measuring teaching excellence, the individual student teacher relationship will play an important part in student success, but can this be adequately reflected in metrics chosen to populate the TEF? This is especially true when using metrics not originally designed to measure teaching excellence. Similarly, fostering a sense of belonging is an essential part of student experience, but how each student experiences this will not be picked up by measures such as the National Student Survey (NSS). That being said, monitoring and evaluation is a critical part of understanding ‘what works’ to support disadvantaged groups, and establishing and sharing effective practice will be important to this. It is hoped that an appropriate balance can be found, so that ultimately those students most in need can truly benefit from these reforms. YU’s Student Engagement network will be exploring these issues through our hard-to-reach working group led by Leeds Beckett University. 

The role of Higher Education in the development of a Northern Powerhouse

by Emily Wolton, 28th January 2016
Blog by Emily Wolton, Yorkshire Universities

The ‘Northern Powerhouse’ evokes the importance of the north for the country as a whole: England needs a fully-functioning not a lop-sided economy. It is also a rallying call to those of us who live and work in the region. 

Readers with memories of the ‘Northern Way’ (whatever became of it?) will be cautious in expecting too much from what may end up as yet another convenient political slogan. But we have to be positive in assuming that the current interest in the potential of the north has some currency. And even if it doesn’t, the challenges we face to develop the northern economy (and all the concomitant social and civic benefits that go with it) are real and need a response.

For the north has undeniable issues to overcome. It has lower qualification rates than nationally – especially at the higher levels (NVQ4 and above). Closing this skills gap must be a priority given the links between higher qualifications and productivity, higher earnings, and greater economic resilience. But we are not closing it. One of the issues is that ‘skills’ is too often equated with ‘lower level skills’: for economic growth, higher level skills are what matter – and (according to a number of studies) are what employers are increasingly demanding.

We also need high growth companies – companies in the north grow more slowly than those in the south. In particular, too few SMEs invest in research and development or even seem to understand the need for this or where to look for help. It’s this kind of investment that generates innovation and thereby increases productivity.

Economic growth requires ‘research’, ‘innovation’ and ‘skills’. These are often addressed separately but in reality they are inter-related: ‘innovation’ is the application of insights gained from ‘research’, which in turn requires people with ‘skills’ – higher-order skills including making connections, spotting opportunities and asking questions. The ability of a company to innovate depends upon highly skilled, enterprising leaders, and employees who can make new business ideas work. 

Why should higher education get involved in these issues? Surely what universities do is research and teach? Yes, but these activities are not divorced from economic development.

One positive aspect of the current environment is that universities are seen by government as key to raising levels of productivity. Universities are, for a start, highly successful businesses themselves by any measure (including their international reach and reputation). They are also at the heart of an innovation ecosystem, bringing together the creation of new ideas (through ‘research’), employable and creative graduates (through ‘teaching’) and engagement with business (through consultancy and other forms of ‘knowledge exchange’). These things run together, for example the ‘teaching’ of students often includes working in and with businesses (through enterprise schemes, higher level apprenticeships and placements).Universities are also working with younger students, for example by setting up university technical colleges and raising the aspirations of school students.

The Northern Powerhouse concept cannot be realised without a healthy, vibrant HE sector.

So what is Yorkshire Universities’ role in the development of a Northern Powerhouse? We have been working collaboratively on these issues for some time, pooling Yorkshire’s universities’ collective strengths and assets to achieve greater impact, stimulating innovation and supporting businesses to grow via collaboration with the knowledge base. The most recent, successful, example of this is the European-funded ‘Yorkshire Innovation Fund’ which involved collaboration between universities and local companies to develop business ideas for new products and services; 200 businesses were supported across 10 different sectors, contributing £1.32 million to the region’s economy. Such projects show what is possible; we have the people, the models and the systems to work productively with business but they need to be used much more widely and with greater impact.

Yorkshire Universities operates (by definition) within Yorkshire. Unfortunately its two sister organisations (North West Universities Association and Universities for the North East) no longer operate, so working across the whole of the north of England’s HE has become more complex. We are committed to playing our part in sharing our experience and contributing to a wider development that enables the universities of the north to grow the economy and with that to improve the social and cultural environment of this part of the country and - beyond that – of the UK as a whole.

Fund Backs Yorkshire’s Innovative Businesses

29th September 2015
Small and medium-sized businesses across the Yorkshire and Humber region have defied the economic downturn by embracing innovation after securing backing from the £3.1m Yorkshire Innovation Fund.
Since the Yorkshire Innovation Fund was set up in 2013 it has supported over 200 small and medium-sized enterprises in the Yorkshire and Humber region.
Part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Yorkshire Innovation Fund brought together ten of the region’s higher education institutions to help the region’s small and medium sized enterprises to develop ideas for new products, services or processes by funding collaborative projects with the region’s universities to boost business growth. 
Among the first to benefit was Sue Overton Applied Practice, a York based early years consultancy. Managing Director Sue Overton applied to the fund for help developing a range of interactive, drama-based on-line learning tools to meet the development needs of the UK’s workforce of Early Years managers and practitioners.
Having quickly identified a need for technical expertise in learning through IT, Sue successfully applied for £41k worth of business support from the fund, which paved the way for a working partnership with Dr Mike O’Dea, a senior lecturer in computer science York St John University.

Drawing on Mike’s technical expertise of learning through IT and computer science education, Sue developed the concept of soap opera style film scenarios which provided a practical learning application for managers in nurseries and other Early Years environments. The innovative learning concepts were then tested by university’s faculty of Education and Theology.

Last year the company’s turnover rose by 150% and a further increase of 60% is forecast for 2015. Last month the company moved to larger premises at Easingwold Business Park. Three new training products (tackling recruitment, whistle-blowing and child-minding) are currently under development and Sue is exploring opportunities to provide training to practitioners in youth offending and social care.

“Thanks to the Yorkshire Innovation Fund and York St John University, we’ve been able to significantly boost the level of expertise within our business”, explains Sue

Other businesses to benefit from the fund include East Yorkshire firm Technostics, a market leader in the research and development of medical products. Cottingham-based Technostics secured £41,000 of business support. This funded expertise from the University of Hull to help widen use of Technostics signature product, Peptest, which detects the presence of aggressive stomach enzymes. The saliva-based test is used to diagnose acid reflux and spares the patient from invasive procedures such as an endoscopy.

Skipton-based Principle Healthcare were also awarded £41,000 of business support which they used to develop two new products including a formula to prevent loss of muscle mass in the elderly which is due for launch in 2016.

Director of the Yorkshire Innovation Fund, Suzanne Emmett commented,

“Our region is a major economic powerhouse and The Yorkshire Innovation Fund helped our community of dynamic SMEs to innovate by tapping into the specialist expertise of Yorkshire’s universities.”

“In a very short time the Yorkshire Innovation Fund demonstrated the significant results that can be achieved when universities and businesses work together”, she added.

Emily Wolton, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities which represents all the higher education institutions in Yorkshire said,

“This Yorkshire Innovation Fund project was genuinely unique in that it enabled a multi-partnership approach and a bespoke response to business needs. Businesses were signposted to the most relevant higher education expertise and, in many cases, worked with more than one university. The project created an excellent platform for each university partner to showcase its expertise and for all the parties to reap the benefits of working closely together to benefit from their respective resources and specialisms.”

Editors Notes
The Yorkshire Innovation Fund brought together ten of the region’s higher education institutions to help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Yorkshire and Humber region to grow.
Part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the fund helped small businesses to develop ideas for new products, services or processes by funding collaborative projects with the region’s universities, drawing on their expertise, specialist equipment or facilities to develop ideas which result in business growth.
The project attracted £3.06million of investment from the ERDF as part of Europe’s support for local economic development through the Yorkshire and Humber ERDF Programme 2007-13. Partner universities contributed a further £1.87m, bringing the total investment to £4.93m. The central project team are based at the University of Bradford.

The delivery partners were:

The University of Bradford, The University of Huddersfield, The University of Hull, The University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds College of Music, Leeds Trinity University, Sheffield Hallam University, The University of York, York St John University. The University of Sheffield is a strategic partner.

Facts about the Yorkshire Innovation Fund
£3.1m    awarded to innovative businesses in the Yorkshire and Humber region
£907k    allocated through Small Innovation Projects (SIPs)  
£835k    allocated through 32 Research & Development Projects (RDPs)  
£1.3m    allocated through Strategic Interventions (SI) (projects (several companies with               similar needs)
250+     applications for support received 
174        innovation projects funded
260+     experts involved in project delivery
10         sectors supported
For more information please visit www.yorkshireinnovationfund.org.

Universities and Local Growth

by Joanne Ennis, 2nd July 2015
Blog by Joanne Ennis

It is widely acknowledged that universities are a key driver of economic growth and prosperity. However in the post-election landscape, higher education institutions (HEIs) are being asked to play an ever greater role in the economy, particularly at local level, creating both challenges and opportunities for HEIs.

In the UK over 99% of businesses are SMEs and according to the Witty Review (Witty, 2013), future economic growth is most likely to be driven by high growth SMEs. Whilst HEIs have significant experience and expertise in supporting businesses to innovate and grow, the way in which they engage with business can also create barriers to innovation, particularly for smaller firms:

First of all, HEIs tend to target their business engagement activity towards firms that are already innovation-active. This excludes many SMEs, the majority of which are micro-enterprises with five or less employees (HEFCE, 2015) since they often lack the capacity or financial resource to support external R&D.

Secondly, traditional models of engagement for example knowledge transfer partnerships or contract research are heavily focussed on product or process innovation within high-tech sectors such as advanced manufacturing or engineering. This represents a rather narrow approach, particularly given that 70% of the UK’s 31 biggest clusters are service-led (Centre for Cities, 2014).

Universities are also crucial to ensuring the supply higher level skills to the labour market which will be needed for future innovation and growth. Yet a recent poll by the Association of Graduate Recruiters found that two-thirds of businesses have unfilled graduate vacancies and almost one-third stated that candidates often lacked specific skills (THE, 2015).

One of the ways that HEIs can respond to these challenges is by building more robust relationships with smaller firms. This is likely to include significant activity aimed at generating the demand for innovation within SMEs, particularly if they have not previously engaged with external R&D or are not already innovation-active.

In terms of employment growth the biggest expansion is predicted to come from the service sectors. This provides opportunities for universities to take a broader approach to business engagement by developing new models of innovation that address the needs of the service-led industries (UUK, 2015).
Overall, universities should seek to develop new, more cost-effective ways of engaging with business which are based around two-way collaboration, requiring a shift in emphasis from knowledge transfer to knowledge exchange (HEFCE, 2015). Furthermore, by involving business in core activity such as curriculum design and programme delivery will enable HEIs to be more responsive to market need.

In the context of further austerity there is increasing pressure on HEIs to expand their mission to include a focus on local growth. This trend is set to continue as cuts in public expenditure begin to impact on funding for universities and competition intensifies for access to resources and influence at sub-national level. The HEIs who will fare best under these conditions are those that are able to adapt and respond to this agenda.



Anchor institutions and the social impact of economic growth

by Josephine Barham, 7th May 2015
Blog by Josephine Barham

The renewed emphasis in national policy on the role of universities in economic growth as ‘anchor institutions’ raises important questions about the impact of growth on local communities, and in particular, the social impact of such activity on the communities in which universities are based.

By taking on the role of an ‘anchor institution’, universities can create impact which has social as well as economic benefits. Anchor institutions use their ‘place-based economic power’ along with human capital, to improve the local community in which they operate.
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) recently published a report looking at ‘good local economies and the role of anchor institutions’. The report examines the role and impact of economic growth, arguing that ‘good growth’ should support social wellbeing as well as economic self-interest; promoting social justice and public service reform. ‘Recognising the scale of anchor institutions’ was identified in the report as one of four components of a ‘good local economy’.

The role of universities as anchors in their local communities is now increasingly being seen as a policy driver in Higher Education (HE). A Catalyst fund call for innovative models of universities and colleges as anchor institutions was released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) at the end of last year. HEFCE identify a number of levels at which an anchor institution could be involved in their local community through engagement with schools, the local skills agenda, social innovation and enterprise, and engaging with business.

CLES has developed a number of case studies which explore how anchor institutions in Preston, working in partnership, can develop a ‘good economy’ which brings ‘maximum benefit’ to the local community. There are examples in the USA (where the concept of anchor institutions is more firmly embedded in policy) in which partnerships between local anchor institutions and the local civic authorities have been long established. For example, John Hopkins University signed a pledge to work with a number of universities and hospitals to grow and revitalise the city of Baltimore, under the Baltimore City Anchor Plan. The plan is focusing partnership activity in four key areas, public safety, local hiring, local purchasing, and quality of life, and includes a framework for measuring the progress of activity.

In Leeds City Region, this concept is being explored in a study commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and delivered by Leeds Beckett University in partnership with York St John University. The action research project examines the ways in which anchor institutions can have a positive impact on the City Region’s economy through their recruitment, employment and procurement policies.

While there are many benefits to universities taking on such a role, it does raise questions as to the obligations of universities to their local communities, and the extent to which these priorities should take precedence over ‘core’ HE activities such as teaching and research. With the current uncertainty regarding the HE funding environment, and increased competition in the sector, it is likely that the extent to which institutions engage with this agenda will vary. 

Further Reading: 

Leading a Food Revolution from Yorkshire

by Monika Antal, 27th March 2015
Blog by Monika Antal, Yorkshire Universities

Understanding the UK’s comparative industrial strengths is an important component of the economic-growth agenda. Universities have a key role in driving development of the research-led technologies of the future, as well as producing students with the right technical skills and strategic expertise that industry needs. This is especially important in high-growth industries where the UK has a competitive advantage. Agri-Science is one of the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ in which the UK is set to be a global leader.
The National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) convened a task force to make recommendations about business-university collaborations to increase the number and quality of talented and skilful graduates entering the food industry, and meet future research and innovation needs. NCUB state that a ‘food revolution’ is needed to meet future global demand. The revolution is likely to be knowledge-intensive, collaborative and integrative. It will build on a combination of big data, nano-technologies, genomics, and communication technologies. There will be increasing integration of renewables, ecological policies and improved consumer education with environmental literacy. 

To ensure the UK can be a world-leader, collaboration between businesses and universities is vital, ensuring that courses reflect the needs identified within the industry. The food industry need to access highly talented graduates who leave university with the intellectual capacity to use technology in imaginative, productive and profitable ways. Effective collaboration and research will improve the otherwise weak links between the food industry, universities and the publicly-funded innovation system. 

Yorkshire’s Universities have world leadings strengths in Agri-Science and Food Technology. The Witty Review (2013) showed that the Universities of York, Sheffield and Leeds are in the top 20 UK organisations for both Agri-Tech and Agri-Science research. Yorkshire Universities’ Technical Assistance team gathered information on the strengths of Agri-Tech and Bio-Renewables in the region’s universities; this included the Bio-Vale initiative led by the University of York.  Bio-Vale will promote the region as an innovation cluster for the bio-economy. 

Yorkshire’s expertise in these areas is now being recognised by Government. In 2014, Yorkshire Universities hosted an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), on the bio-economy in Yorkshire, to showcase the region as the place for technology investment in this area. A UK policy framework for the bio-economy has recently been launched by BIS, drawing on the discussions which took place at the APPG. Yorkshire’s universities have a vital contribution to make.

For further reading please find YU’s advocacy work on high level skills and graduate skills for business success here.

For the full report on ‘Leading Food 4.0’: https://ncub.creatavist.com/leading_food

Read about the YU Technical assistance work on Bio-vale and agri-tech here: http://yuta.yorkshireuniversities.ac.uk/good-practice-guide/agri-tech-bio-economy

The BIS strategy document informed by the APPG meeting recommendations that can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-growth-of-the-UK-bioeconomy-opportunities-from-waste.

Postgraduate study under the microscope

by Professor Roger Lewis, 18th February 2015
Blog by Professor Roger Lewis, Yorkshire Universities

Postgraduate (PG) study is under the microscope. This is perhaps the last largely unregulated area of university activity; compared to undergraduate study, much that happens is out of sight.

Issues include funding; the attention HEIs give to their PG students (including the quality of research supervision) and the standard of the PhD (the ‘gold standard’).

Affordability of PG study to students is the most obvious issue; this applies particularly to students on taught courses rather than those studying for PhDs, who have access to studentships funded by charities and the research councils. Burdened with debt repayments, are graduates less likely to go on to further formal study? This issue was – surprisingly – largely ignored by the Browne review (which gave just one page to PG education). Recently there have been scholarship schemes, including one in our region (involving Leeds, Sheffield and York) which was five times over-subscribed. There is as yet no comprehensive framework for funding.

This raises the question of who should pay. That students should contribute seems obvious given the likely financial benefit (quoted as £200k above graduate earnings). PG study is a passport to (some) jobs and attractive to students who want to mark themselves out from the crowd. 

Employers benefit from more highly skilled workers – and so does the state, which needs to remain competitive globally. Other contributors might include alumni, private donors, financial institutions (in devising new loan schemes) – and (interestingly) HEIs themselves (showing that they put their money where their mouth is). 

Another issue is how well HEIs look after students. Isolation is a recurrent theme – and the stress and anxiety this can lead to. There are other questions: how well do HEIs prepare PG students for employability? What opportunities are there for work experience and appropriate careers advice? Or do academics resist such activities as ‘molly coddling’?

What about the supervisory process itself? Do students see their supervisor frequently enough? Do they get quality time with a carefully-set agenda? What about induction arrangements? Are PG students’ expectations explored? Is motivation discussed? Are warning signs of students in difficulty picked up and acted on? Doctoral training partnerships offer a model for dealing with some of these issues, e.g. providing students, in cohorts, with opportunities for peer contact and developing supervisors beyond their narrowly ‘academic’ role.

Finally, what about the standard of PG degrees – and especially that of the PhD? In an article in The Higher (20 Feb, pp35-38) two examiners give an alarming account of their experience. A ‘significant’ number of students they examined did not deserve their award but – for non-academic reasons – were nevertheless passed. The authors are ‘distinctly uneasy about the state of doctoral studies’ and put problems down to universities’ wish to recruit without necessarily considering their capacity to support such studies.

Given the profile of PG study and the many issues it faces, YU is considering setting up a network to explore the possibility of collaborative initiatives within its membership, working with others such as the White Rose Partnership.