Beyond levelling up

Universities must help create entrepreneurs to unlock the potential of the regional economy, says Falmouth University’s vice-chancellor

In January’s University Business magazine, Professor Martin Jones riffed about ‘levelling up’, urging ministers to contextualise the value of universities in their areas before assessing their value.

It struck a chord with me, as Staffordshire University’s drive to tackle the ‘connectivity issue’ between students, local jobs and the surrounding economy isn’t too far removed from the mission we’re on in the south-west. In a region where productivity is 35% below the UK average, there is even more urgency required for us to roll up our sleeves, help to close inequality gaps and boost opportunity for all.

I’m not surprised that (given the continuing circumstances) the UK government has issued strengthened requirements for HEIs to rethink their access and participation plans to better support attainment in schools and FE colleges. The direction of travel appears to increasingly support the idea of a more technical, apprenticeship and skills-based education offer which will respond to the challenges of our time. To do this, we need courses and programmes that are ambitious, agile and multi-disciplinary in their approach.

At Falmouth University, we’ve built our 2030 Strategy around the move towards flexible, industry-facing courses that will boost graduate outcomes and increase the resilience of our student community to be able to call upon the skills we know are in demand in the creative industries.

As highlighted by Professor Martin Jones, our Launchpad venture studio model is one of the key ways we’re aligning our course offer to meet the needs of the local region.
Falmouth’s Launchpad is a tech-based incubator that has all the hallmarks of a solid business development programme – but our cohorts also work towards an MSc, which gives the entrepreneurial journey an added academic rigour.

Launchpad candidates rarely come into the programme with a pre-formulated business idea. Instead, the model is underpinned by a market-led approach where partners such as Sony Entertainment, Amazon Web Services, Twitch and the NHS post the real-world challenges they’re looking to solve.

The combination of commercial nous and real-word application of knowledge combined with the partnerships that are forged between programme participants and local businesses all help to create a base for tech clusters to formulate – as they have in other localities in the UK.

There are further plans afoot to enhance and extend the Launchpad model to encompass the whole university.

This broadening of our pipeline and deal flow will complement the entrepreneurial leanings already present in our student body.

There are more self-starters and business owners coming out of Falmouth than Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics

Indeed, Falmouth graduates are the most entrepreneurial graduates in the UK, as highlighted in a survey of more than 10 million students by Capital on Tap. There are more self-starters and business owners coming out of Falmouth than Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics: 23.5% of our graduates go on to set up their own businesses and one in 10 are freelancers, well above the national average.

 

What’s at the heart of this competitive advantage? Well, there’s the ‘creative bridge’ concept for one. That’s where creative thinking reaches across the divide between technology and humans to create meaning, value and innovation. Of course, the incredible talent and specialisms of both staff and students are an essential part of the mix, but there’s also more to it than that.

Our deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation), Professor Patric Eriksson, is helping the university build on its assets and move towards a ‘place-based approach’, where the university helps to sow the seeds for creative clusters and hubs. As we’ve seen in other locations where digital and creative tech talent pools cluster, their very proximity helps to raise aspiration and build what’s been dubbed a ‘creative class’.

It’s interesting that Cornwall’s Conservative administration has made social care and housing its main priorities. There’s a recognition that to solve society’s biggest problems, we need to start from the basics. This is a place where we all want others to succeed – and together, we need to make sure the foundations are in place.

Launchpad’s model ensures that those who begin the startup journey with us become part of Cornwall’s business ecosystem in the future, with a commitment to locate themselves within the county for five years following the completion of their MA and roll out of their startup.

Beyond the walls of Launchpad, we all have a bigger part to play in improving outcomes in the country. We’re improving education opportunities, sharing knowledge and highlighting access to capital for SMEs to help make sure we win a broader share of investment capital – both here in the south-west and in the wider UK. We’re committed to becoming the number one ecosystem for innovation, creative arts and technology in the country – and the best location to start and scale up businesses in Cornwall.

We now have our own investment capital to manage and deploy, which is supporting proposed plans to manage venture investment funds from the university. For us, this is an evergreen model that brings us closer to our 2030 ambitions, making sure both the university and the region thrive.

Levelling up may be a catchphrase for many, but for us it’s more of an ethos that we live and breathe. We can’t be successful unless we tie our goals and our successes to those of the region in which we operate.

We are anchored in this country and are invested both in its regeneration and its future.

Here in Cornwall, we’re on a journey towards an economy that is based on its digital and creative talent, rather than low-wage or seasonal work. To do this, we must embrace the jewels we have at our disposal: a growing body of creative talent, an emerging technical and digital ecosystem and a strong international recognition and brand that compels, intrigues and delights.

Prof Anne Carlisle is vice-chancellor of Falmouth University


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