The Conservative party conference heard today (5 October) that modern universities are uniquely placed to help the government deliver it’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Professor Graham Baldwin, vice-chair of MillionPlus, told a fringe event at the Manchester conference that “it is our vocational and technical offerings that truly set us apart, and our ability to innovate and work with business and industry to meet key local needs”.
As an example, Prof Graham related how the University of Central Lancashire, where he serves as vice-chancellor, “… has founded and established two campuses in addition to its main campus in Preston, in areas previously in danger of being ‘left behind’ – namely Burnley and Westlakes, in West Cumbria.
“Here, academic provision is fine-tuned to meet economic and skills demands for those respective areas, working with our fellow civic pillars of local authorities, NHS health trusts, and providers of further education, to create an offer of relevance and practical importance for the towns and wider regions they serve.”
The university’s free, investor-led Investment Readiness programme had helped 200 businesses secure £4m of investment, he added.
He said universities must do more to create “explicit” and “strategic” relationships with further education colleges and schools – as, at present, too many partnerships rely on personalities and wither when staff move on.
We should remember that many of the things that the government say they want to see happening around the country are already taking place – Professor Graham Baldwin
Prof Graham also cited initiatives at other MillionPlus members, including the University of Cumbria’s training of specialist workers at the Sellafield nuclear power plant, and a knowledge exchange programme, organised by the University of Sunderland, that had given more than 6,000 hours of support to manufacturers in the region.
Prof Graham was speaking at Degrees of Success: Universities, Levelling Up and the New Normal, an event hosted by ConservativeHome, on a panel also including Michelle Donelan, Minister for Higher and Further Education, Sir David Melville, and Professor Andy Westwood.
Building links with industry and delivering “cutting-edge courses” would only continue, he warned, with governmental support.
“This means both research funding, which remains too hyper-concentrated in this country, but also, crucially, it means maintaining the unit of resource that all students can expect to be invested in their university to give them every chance to thrive.”
Restricting numbers entering higher education would also be to the detriment of wider society, argued Prof Baldwin:
“A country that limits access and aspiration is a country that is going backwards. When we focus on levelling up and doing as much as we can for as many as we can, we need to ensure we keep universities within that focus.
“We should remember that many of the things that the government say they want to see happening around the country are already taking place, if you know where to look for them.
“Through focusing on place, and on making sure all parts of the country are supported, these transformations and innovations will bring investment and new skills to the areas that need it most, and with the government supporting our institutions we can increase the amount we can offer and further cement our universities as the social, cultural and academic hubs of our towns, cities and regions.”
Click here to watch the event in full