Ask anyone in a university working on local growth or community engagement whether having dedicated funding for this activity makes their life easier, and you’ll nearly always be told it does. The same person may also bemoan the amount of red tape, small print and complexity involved with this funding – but the benefits of European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF), for example, outweighed the bureaucratic headaches and university engagement in ESIF grew year after year.
Monika Antal, Executive Manager
One of the last non-virtual gatherings (remember those?) I attended this year was the Climate + Culture + Collaboration event organised by Culture Forum North on the 27th of February. At the time of registering to it, I remember thinking it will be a treat to participate in something that combines professional and personal interests on the same date as my birthday, so I was really looking forward to it.
Commenting on the Government’s Spending Review, published today, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities, Dr Peter O’Brien, said:
“The scale and depth of the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the country as a result of COVID-19 are stark – laid out by the analysis produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The evidence suggests that those regions and local areas defined as ‘left behind’, and where economies have not realised their full potential for some time, will be disproportionately impacted by the crisis.
A new report, ‘Unlocking the potential of civic collaboration’, offers fresh insight into collaborative working between the University of Leeds and Leeds City Council. Professor Adam Crawford and Professor Adrian Favell, of Leeds Social Sciences Institute, discuss why collaboration is becoming more important and its role in the West Yorkshire Devolution Deal.
As Leeds responds to the pandemic, prepares for Brexit and works with colleagues across West Yorkshire to maximise the benefits of devolution, collaboration and knowledge exchange between researchers and local policy-makers and practitioners is vital. A new report from Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) has provided a detailed review of research-policy collaboration in the city for the first time. It affords an analysis of the extent of such partnerships and factors that encourage or inhibit successful collaborative projects. While the report focuses on bi-lateral relationships between researchers at the University of Leeds and Council officers, we believe it offers insights into collaboration that are of interest in development of research collaboration partnerships regionally.
It highlights productive research collaborations between the two organisations in responding to economic, social and environmental challenges over many years. The report reveals strong inter-personal relationships and includes case studies of successful projects spanning a vast array of social, environmental and scientific topics. It outlines findings from an online survey and interviews with staff from the University and the Council on the benefits, enablers and barriers affecting research collaboration. As a result of findings from the Review, a series of recommendations have been proposed to establish a more strategic approach to research-policy partnerships, which are informed by principles that aim to enhance and accelerate collaboration in future. These recommendations have now been accepted by both institutions and a joint Reference Group has been established to oversee the implementation of an agreed Action Plan.
The Review shows the scale of research collaboration between University and Council, with 118 projects spanning all faculties and directorates since 2015, of which 45 are currently live. It also shows that these projects are dependent upon, and contribute to, much broader relationships with businesses, voluntary and public sector partners and other universities within the city and across the region.
The value of regional collaborative partnerships is more apparent than ever in developing a regional response to the global pandemic, Brexit and preparing for devolution in West Yorkshire. The Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN), a multi-University network of experts, is focusing on economic recovery to support WYCA and Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and other public bodies in planning COVID-19 recovery efforts. Sub-regional interaction through WYCA and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership has intensified in preparation for devolved powers and budgets under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Introducing a directly elected mayor for West Yorkshire will increase opportunity for decision-making on issues including housing and transport, requiring robust evidence to inform policy development. Devolution will provide more flexibility on issues, such as transport and housing, and will unlock a £1.8bn investment with other councils in West Yorkshire, which necessitates collective and evidence-informed decision-making. The Review is a timely new step for future consideration of multi-stakeholder research partnerships.
Researchers who took part in the survey and interviews for the Review viewed working with the council as a direct pathway to impact and funding for research is set to become more place-based. The Government’s UK Research and Development Roadmap, published earlier this year, recognises the role of a place-based approach to research and development in ‘levelling up’ regional inequalities. This specifically highlights the requirement to foster ‘greater collaborations and networks between funders, researchers, practitioners and civic leaders to embed a system to deliver a stronger local economic benefit and improved quality of life outcomes’.
Prior to the Review, collaborations had been largely on an ad hoc basis, however steps are now being taken to actively encourage effective partnerships. Twelve recommendations were proposed for accelerating research-policy engagement. These include named collaboration champions, co-produced priorities for place-based research, a ‘connected Leeds’ vision for data sharing and building research activities into Council procurement. These recommendations are considered an initial step in pursuing much wider civic aspirations and regional relationships.
Collaboration is expected to continue play an increasingly significant role throughout the Leeds City Region and beyond. Researchers in the Social Sciences are also developing collaborative relations with other local authorities in West Yorkshire, as well as across the North of England more broadly. The Review constitutes a new phase in the development of wider strategies to enhance and harness public and third sector engagement across the city-region. The recommendations an aligned Action Plan offer a useful platform from which to build wider collaborative research partnerships across the region in the future.
Professor Adam Crawford is Director of Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) and Professor Adrian Favell is Chair in Sociology and Social Theory at the University of Leeds and Deputy Director of LSSI.
To learn more about the Review contact: lSSI@leeds.ac.uk
At national policy level:
YU has been recognised as an external stakeholder in the COP26 University Network, which is a growing group of UK-based universities working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021. The Network’s mission is to ensure that the UK academic sector plays a full role in delivering a successful COP26, encouraging all actors to deliver a low-carbon, resilient world. They aim to do so by making access to research evidence and academic expertise for COP26 easier for government, NGOs, and other actors, and by taking action themselves.
Recently, I ‘attended’ The graduate labour market post COVID-19: priorities for university careers services and the role of universities, employers and government in preparing students event, hosted by the Westminster Higher Education Forum. With the economic crisis presenting new challenges for many young people seeking employment, including graduates, here is what I found out:
Recently, Nesta launched a report exploring how cities and regions collaborate internationally on innovation. If done effectively, international collaborations offer the opportunity to hit multiple policy priorities: levelling up regions, boosting investment in R&D towards 2.4 percent of GDP, and strengthening overseas relationships post-Brexit.
You can read the response from Yorkshire Universities on the Sheffield City Region Strategic Economic Plan consultation here.
This week Yorkshire Post’s Westminster Correspondent Geri Scott spoke to YU executive director Dr Peter O’Brien on the impact Covid-19 has had on the region’s institutions, and how they can help in the pandemic recovery. Listen to episode 27. of Pod’s Own Country: The Yorkshire Post’s Political Podcast here.