The role of a HERA

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.

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