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 h