A report published today by MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, argues that modern universities are vital to support devolution and the industrial strategy and need to be valued as key players if the government is to deliver on its ambitions to improve living standards and re-balance regional growth.
Universities, devolution and the industrial strategy: piecing the jigsaw together says that the industrial strategy has the potential to bring coherence to a complex devolution agenda in England. The report describes how different devolution deals have been progressed in different parts of the country to create a patchwork of local governance and funding arrangements. These include elected mayors, metro mayors, combined authorities covering hugely contrasting geographies, city deals, local enterprise partnerships and, in some areas, the transfer to combined authorities of EU funding, the future of which is now uncertain. In some localities, devolution remains a matter of contention while many areas of the country remain outside of any devolution agreement.
The report points out that universities are uniquely placed as local partners and anchor institutions to support both devolution and the industrial strategy through their teaching, business support, strategic expertise, high-quality research, knowledge exchange activities and graduates, including their graduate entrepreneurs.
The report recommends that:
- Government and local authorities’ responses to the industrial strategy should be developed in conjunction with modern universities as key local anchor institutions
- As part of the industrial strategy’s ‘pillar’ for investing in science, innovation and research, a new fund for applied and translational research should be created to promote innovative collaborations between universities and business, SMEs and public services
- The new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund should be focused on regional and local development in addition to a focus on technologies
- Life-long learning should be supported by the provision of tax and other incentives to employers, employees and those not in the workplace
- Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships should ensure that modern universities are engaged from the outset in discussions about the development of devolution deals
- The government should establish an Office for English Devolution to coordinate and broker devolution deals, oversee finances and ensure areas with devolved powers do not adversely affect those outside of devolution areas
Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of MillionPlus and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University, said:
“As major employers and drivers of economic growth and opportunities for local communities, modern universities are key to ensuring that the jigsaw of devolution and the industrial strategy fit together and that the government’s ambitions to grow the economy and improve living standards outside of London and the South East are realised.”
“These universities have a long tradition of making a significant impact in their localities, working with business, public services and local government. They are the glue that will bind the industrial strategy and devolution together. Politicians and policy makers at all levels will need to value and work with them if the industrial strategy is to be a success.
“The Treasury also has a part to play in helping to fund locally developed initiatives which seek to address long-standing imbalances in regional growth and the Chancellor should consider how the March Budget could support our recommendations.”
Sandra Booth, Pro Vice Chancellor Enterprise, Business Development and Engagement at the University of Cumbria added:
“In Cumbria we are proud to support the key sectors which are vitally important to the regions economy. Developing the talent of the future skilled workforce and supporting the lifelong learning of the existing workforce is essential for a resilient and productive regional economy. We are working together with employers and Cumbria LEP to maximise the opportunities the Industrial Strategy represents for Cumbria.”