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May 23, 2013

The Art of Partnership

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Image. University of Southampton WSA Degree Show Preparation 2008

A blog post by Dame Helen Alexander, Chancellor of the University of Southampton

The greatest collaborations between industry and universities involve true partnership. Developing these partnerships, however, is a slow process, and needs to be carefully nurtured.

The University of Southampton, where I am chancellor, experiences the whole range of interactions with business at regional, national and international levels. The first, and the hardest to quantify, is the production of highly educated and trained people. Degree programmes and professional training all develop people with the skills and qualities which businesses need. As with many universities, there are companies who rely on our university to produce the graduates they require, and many work with us on developing the curricula or offering work experience.

Companies with good experience of a university, and the graduates it produces, often take the next step in the relationship; they identify individual projects where the university can help their business to develop further. To be successful, universities must see such contract research as a key part of their mission. They need both academic staff who understand and can deliver to business requirements and timescales, and processes which make such contract research easier to deliver within a busy university environment. The universities who are best at doing this, Southampton included, have developed this capability over many decades. They need staff with significant experience in working with companies, and often have dedicated units for contract research. It is essential that these units stay deeply connected to the rest of the university, and can draw upon expertise from across the disciplines.

True partnerships between companies and universities come after many years of working together, where a synergy develops as both sides understand the other’s needs. Sometimes the company in question has a standard model for how to do this. Rolls Royce, for instance, has established University Technology Centres in higher education institutions (HEIs) across the world, each focussing on a different set of technological or engineering problems. The University of Southampton hosts two such centres (in gas turbine noise and computational engineering). Other major companies such as Microsoft, BAE and Unilever do the same.

The strongest partnerships of all are achieved when a company and a university find they are almost mutually co-dependent, and both adapt their own systems and structures to make the partnership stronger. In Southampton, we have a relationship with Lloyd’s Register dating back more than 40 years, which has passed through all of the stages outlined above. As a result, we are, together, constructing a new campus, which will co-locate 400 engineers from Lloyd’s Register, with engineers and scientists from the University. The two partners are sharing the £115m cost in a project heralded as the largest such business-focused endeavour in any UK university. And we are now using that development as a platform to work with them in Singapore, in the USA and around the world.

Such partnerships bring some of the greatest business impacts from universities. Partnership brings huge rewards, but is hard, time-consuming and involves compromise. You only become the partner of someone you know well. The trust, the confidence, the comfort of working together in this way builds slowly. You can’t rush it.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Southampton University WSA Degree Show Preparation 2008. Source: (Flickr)

Image. Dame Helen Alexander University of SouthamptonDame Helen Alexander, Chancellor of the University of Southampton, chairman of UBM plc, Incisive Media and the Port of London Authority. Dame Helen was president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) until June 2011. Dame Helen was chief executive of the Economist Group until 2008, having joined the company in 1985 and been managing director of the Economist Intelligence Unit from 1993 to 1997.

May 19, 2013

The International Race: The Forefront of International Higher Education

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Image. 31st Annual Freihofer

A blog post by Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol

Higher education is an international enterprise. Our comparators, and our competitors, are found all over the world. At my own university, Bristol, we have staff and students from 112 countries. 30 per cent of our students and around 14 per cent of our staff are from outside the UK. We have partnerships in many countries around the world and each year we help about 500 students go abroad as part of their degrees We’re in the business of educating global citizens.

That is one reason why the Global University Summit is such an important event in the higher education calendar.

It is particularly important for us in the UK at this moment because, like so many other countries, we are in the middle of a period of serious fiscal retrenchment. As government looks to reduce, all UK government budget areas (with the exception of schools, the NHS and international development) are facing substantial cuts.

Our job is to explain that we are in an international race and that the search for elusive growth depends, to a considerable extent, on our ability to stay at the forefront of international higher education.

If we don’t, highly mobile students and academic staff have the world to choose from. The pull of world-class universities encourages businesses to invest in the UK, helps companies grow, and underpins the infrastructure which supports them, including the essential public services.

Universities are also a fantastic advertisement for the UK. Anywhere you go in the world you will find leaders in all parts of public life who were educated here. That creates a network of priceless importance to the UK. It opens up diplomatic and commercial opportunities that cannot be under-estimated. The influence is not only about past links. At almost any point in time, a UK academic will be standing on a platform somewhere promoting the ideas we are generating.

We know that university research contributes to UK competitiveness in a range of ways – not only the obvious technological innovations like 3G mobile, a product of Bristol research.

In my view, the major contribution universities make to the economy is through people. 3,800 educated, talented and motivated graduates emerge from the University of Bristol every year. They all have subject-specific knowledge, but more importantly they have the ability to think critically, to challenge received opinion and, we hope, the confidence to drive change.

That’s one of the reasons why, according to NESTA, innovative businesses have more than double the share of employees with degrees than business categorised as ‘non-innovative’. It goes some way to explaining why the UK economy is becoming increasingly dependent on graduates - a trend which looks likely to continue as the proportion of jobs which require lower skill levels continues to shrink.

And although such companies make up just six per cent of the total number of businesses in the UK, they accounted for 54 per cent of jobs growth between 2002 and 2005.

The political debate in the UK is dominated by deficit reduction, and growth, and the complex relationship between the two. The next election will be won and lost on economic confidence. Spending decisions for 2015-16 will set the tone and the government will be judged on how it balances investment for growth with retrenchment for deficit reduction.

Our job, as our government gears up for some extremely difficult spending decisions is to convince them that this is precisely the wrong moment to cut back on education and research. We’re part of the answer, not part of the problem.

That’s why government must invest in universities.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: 31st Annual Freihofer's Run for Women. Source (Flickr).

Image. Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor, University of BristolProfessor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol

Professor Eric Thomas has been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol since September 2001. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1976 and proceeded to obtain his MD by thesis in research into endometriosis in 1987. He trained as an obstetrician and gynaecologist and worked at both the universities of Sheffield and Newcastle. In 1991 he was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Southampton and then became Head of the School of Medicine there in 1995 and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Biological Sciences in 1998. He was a consultant gynaecologist from 1987 to 2001.

May 14, 2013

Discovery to product: research universities and regional economies

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Photograph: University of Wisconsin Madison students in a computer class.

A blog post by David Ward, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Over the past two decades, external pressures on higher education have increasingly stressed the positive and generative connections between national and regional economic growth and comprehensive research universities. This connection between university-based research and the knowledge economy seemed initially to be an ideal justification for an expansion of public investment in higher education. For those of us in the United States, this positive advocacy was compounded by growing apprehension about the potential diminished competitiveness of US higher education as the research capacities of the EU, China and India expanded.

The funding benefits of this positive relationship between university research and economic competitiveness were of course curtailed by the fiscal consequences of the recent worldwide recession but other more critical issues of accountability now prevail in discussions of how public policies can enhance economic advancement. Generally, the most productive way in which universities have transferred knowledge has been by preparing students for advanced managerial or technical roles. Recently, the fit between curricula and the level of preparation for professional practice has been questioned. In particular, student choices of disciplinary specialisation did not necessarily lead to easy entry into high technology professions leading to accountability proposals that could convert universities into aggregations of professional schools.

This unresolved debate is now focused more directly on other kinds of technology or knowledge transfer from universities to the market place. Several research universities have developed more direct strategies of knowledge transfer that have become a productive means of self-funding. Consortia of businesses are prepared to subscribe to early and frequent access to innovative university research, intellectual property is licensed to companies and the proceeds divided between the university endowment and the scientist-inventor, university research parks provide sites for early stage start-up companies that have their origins in the intellectual property of research and, to the degree that local investment capital is available, start-up companies are created by local entrepreneurs with links to university research.

In this continuum of connections between discovery and product, the least direct forms of consortia and licensing are the most prevalent and have provided the most secure flow of funding back to research universities. Political pressures to do more for local or regional employment now question the value of knowledge transfer that does more nationally and globally than locally. Even in local environments where the risk culture necessary for a start-up success is weakly developed, there is an assumption that university research should and can overcome the limitations of local capital markets. Clearly without some comparative regional advantage in access to capital and attractiveness to entrepreneurs, research universities will be unable to meet the expectations of regional economies.

It is also critical that policies recognise that research investment must include pure and serendipitous scholarship since many products are derived from these sources. The drive to concentrate on more strategically driven applied research may undermine the discovery process itself. Just as our educational mission needs to connect professional preparation to the broader curricula of the arts and sciences, our research mission needs to embrace a comprehensive philosophy of discovery rather than restrict funded research to narrowly defined outcomes. On the other hand ready access to opportunities for innovation when combined with appropriate advice and funding, will provide faculty and students with an invaluable education in the complex process of discovery to product. Local support strives to recognise global reputations but not necessarily at the expense of some direct contributions to regional growth.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the Summit, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

Image: Students work on an in-class assignment in an Electrical and Computer Engineering 230: Circuit Analysis course taught by faculty associate Michael Morrow on the fourth floor of Wendt Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison). Via Flickr.

Photograph: David Chandler University of Wisconsin MadisonInterim Chancellor David Ward returned to the leadership helm at UW-Madison in July 2011, having previously served in the position between 1993 and 2000.

During his last tenure, Chancellor Ward was a champion for reinvigorating the 'Wisconsin Idea' by building connections among and between the university, city, county, and the state. He promoted the creation of the Bradley and Chadborne residential learning communities and a cross-college advising service. He brought a 'cluster hiring' programme to UW-Madison aimed at attracting and retaining world-class faculty, and he created the university’s Technology Transfer Council in 1995. Ward was also instrumental in the growth of University Research Park.

October 20, 2011

Warwick in Venice

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venetian_miscellany_cover.jpgThe University of Warwick has long enjoyed a connection with Venice; the University first put down roots in that city in 1967, when Sir John Hale, Founding Professor of History, took the first Warwick students to spend the autumn term at the Palazzo Brandolini. Over the last five years, Warwick has established a lively base at the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, where it is now resident all year round, offering up to 80 students in History and History of Art an exciting opportunity to attend lectures while soaking up the atmosphere of the great city.

On October 20th 2011 the University of Warwick brings its Distinguished Lecture Series to the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava for the first time. The University’s guest of honour, Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, will deliver a lecture entitled: Objects of concern: some of the things that preoccupied Shakespeare’s public, and the event will be hosted by the Chancellor, Sir Richard Lambert, in the presence of, among others, the British Ambassador to Italy, Christopher Prentice.

At the Knowledge Centre we thought it was the ideal moment to celebrate Warwick’s ties with Venice by offering readers the chance to dip into a brand new book of essays, A Venetian Miscellany. This collection has been drawn from academic staff, students and friends of the University, and touches on many different themes, from the rowdy graduation ceremonies that began in 12th century Europe - and still continue in Venice today - to American novelists’ approaches to writing about Venice. From Friday Oct 21st Knowledge Centre will be running extracts from the book, and there will also be the opportunity to download it (perfect for reading on your Kindle!)

We will also be capturing Neil MacGregor’s lecture for the site, along with a round-table discussion on the subject of art, which are due to be published in November. Until then, you can still access Knowledge Centre content on former guests of the Distinguished Lecture series including a video of James Smith, Chairman of Shell UK, talking about the energy challenge and Professor Lord Robert Skidelsky's lecture How Much is Enough? The Economics of the Good Life.

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