I’m a little late in reading Janesville: An American Story, Amy Goldstein’s tale of an industrial Wisconsin town in the depths of the Great Recession. The book received wide praise when published in 2017, telling the story of a community trying to pick itself up in the years following the closure of a major General Motors assembly plant. But the story has particular resonance now, as we stand on the cusp of another wave of economic upheaval. Here are three reflections.
One of the most surprising outcomes of the past few difficult months has been the seeming ease with which universities have changed their teaching from largely face-to-face to entirely online. This has been announced on websites promptly and factually – as if the transition is unproblematic.
Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic and economic crises a review that will be critical to the recovery within and across the country appears to have started within Whitehall. The Budget statement on 11 March announced a review by HM Treasury of its Green Book; the ‘rule book’ used by central government departments to determine whether public funds should be invested or not in projects to drive economic development.
Unsurprisingly, a huge amount is being written about the coronavirus crisis. Publications are shifting their entire focus onto the pandemic (‘there is only one story in the world right now’, says WIRED magazine). There has been an explosion of academic publications on the virus, with peer review processes struggling to keep up.
As we head towards week three of ‘lock-down’, my thoughts are foremost with those people suffering from COVID-19 and on the front line in the fight against the disease. Whatever our challenges have been in adjusting to the new norm of homeworking, nothing compares to the immediate personal risks facing many in the UK and across the world.
Today is my eldest daughter’s 14th Birthday; one that she will spend, like millions of children, being home-schooled, but also apart from her grandparents, whom we are socially-distancing ourselves from in line with medical advice. I can’t recall a time like this in her young life or even my own – which is considerably longer – where the world has faced such an acute crisis as that caused by the COVID-19 virus.
The Chancellor’s Budget Statement hit the headlines both for the background against which the Statement was made – the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis – and the announcement of significant new investment in infrastructure (including science and innovation) as part of the government’s efforts to ‘level up’ the UK economy.
UKRI committed in its original Strategic Prospectus to publish a Place Strategy and work is progressing towards its publication. Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has opened an investigation into ‘universities and geography’. Kevin Richardson, Research England, identifies many common issues.
The phrase ‘anchor institution’ is currently in vogue but what does it mean in reality? What defines an ‘anchor’? What kinds of organisation are in a good place to take on the role? How might their different contributions complement each other as part of a wider system? More specifically for YU, what role should universities play? These questions were posed at a roundtable convened last week to discuss a new report published by Newcastle University researchers on universities and place-based leadership.
According to an independent review of the creative industries, the creative industries are vital to the UK’s long-term productivity and global success. This is even more significant in a post-Brexit era, where universities will have an important role. A 2018 study by Nesta found that research collaborations between universities and creative industries supported by UK Research Councils and Innovate UK had more than doubled between 2006 and 2017. But progress was needed to ensure that the growth potential of the UK’s creative industries benefitted more people and more regions, and supported social mobility, greater equality and progression.