2022 West Yorkshire Innovation Festival: Innovation in Conversation

The YU ‘Innovation in Conversation’ webinar was organised as part of the 2022 West Yorkshire Innovation Festival on 4 October 2022. We are pleased to be able to share the recordings of the panels:

Panel One – Can universities really help SMEs to innovate?
Featuring case studies from University of Bradford, University of Huddersfield and University of Leeds, with speakers including:

  • Claire Paxman – Brand Ambassador & Director of Global Training, Paxman Coolers Limited
  • Jonny Binder – Product Design & Development, Paxman Coolers Limited
  • Professor Anant Paradkar – Director, Centre for Pharmaceutical Engineering Science at the University of Bradford
  • Dr Suyog Aher – Head of Research and Development at Octopoda Innovations Ltd
  • Olivia Pabois – Michael Beverley Innovation Fellow at the University of Leeds

Panel Two – What can universities do to help wellbeing through innovation?
Featuring case studies from the Leeds Beckett University, York St John University and Leeds Trinity University, with speakers including:

  • Ken Clare, Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Lead
  • Saeeda Bashir, Obesity Institute Principal Consultant.
  • Dr Nick Rowe, Director and Founder of Converge, York St John University
  • Emma McKenzie – Senior Occupational Therapist, with Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust
  • Dr James Jackson, Reader in Psychology, Leeds Trinity University
  • Dr Fabrice Bardy, Co-Founder, Hearing Power
  • Share this post:

The Public Value of Evidence-based Policymaking

Dr Peter O’Brien, YU Executive Director

Y-PERN: A Regional Research and Policy Engagement Network

It has been a tumultuous period, by recent standards in modern British history, with the dynamics of domestic policy decisions, governance and global market forces intersecting in ways that have produced profound implications for communities, households, and individuals, up and down the country. The economic challenges facing the UK economy, especially in regions like Yorkshire, were significant prior to COVID, and they have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thus, giving rise to a renewed search for innovative solutions to complex problems.

The Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN) is a new initiative, funded by Research England. Y-PERN, convened by Yorkshire Universities, will enable policymakers to harness and utilise world-class research to better inform and shape crucial decisions around jobs, skills, infrastructure and investment. During an unprecedented cost of living crisis, Y-PERN will help to identify and incubate answers to the fundamental economic, financial and social questions facing our region.

Y-PERN will be led by an integrated team of expert Policy Fellows, based within and across all four sub-regions in Yorkshire, supported by an independent academic advisory group. In Yorkshire, we have one of the largest clusters of universities outside of London. Y-PERN will bring together universities of all different shapes and sizes. Our universities already work collaboratively, and the mission of Yorkshire Universities is to support and strengthen that collaboration.

Universities, Communities and Policymakers

Universities have a critical role to play in working with society to push the frontiers of knowledge and understanding about the world in which we live. Public policy is much more effective when informed by data, evidence, and practical experience of what has worked in the past.

Studies co-designed and conducted in partnership with local actors can also generate the most insightful perspectives. In addition, they ensure that communities have a stake and are an integral part of the policy-making process.

As charities, universities receive significant amounts of public funding, and there is a responsibility to use research for wider benefit or good. Creating closer relationships between researchers and policymakers means that findings are more likely to have wider and more enduring societal impact.

Tackling Key Economic and Societal Challenges

Policymakers face the stark reality of tackling immediate inflationary price rises, especially in food and energy, whilst laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth and prosperity. All at a time when public finances are under mounting pressure, and the cost of capital is increasing.

Yorkshire is a fantastic region, full of potential, great assets, a vibrant culture, and it has a world-renowned brand. But like most places, COVID has had a major impact. Social and spatial inequalities have widened. Growth fell dramatically, and large numbers of businesses and places have been unable to bounce back. Health inequalities have become more pronounced, with the poorest and disadvantaged communities impacted the most. As a region, we have suffered from decades of under-funding, and so improving connectivity and mobility between people and places is vital. The UK is competing for new trade and investment, and climate change is impacting heavily upon Yorkshire. The move to a net-zero economy presents a real opportunity, but the shift should be undertaken as part of a fair and just transition.

These big questions require robust analysis and interpretation, and they demand new policy answers and interventions. Universities in Yorkshire, with local, national and global links, can help policymakers find solutions, and attract public and private investment. Academics can also undertake the monitoring and evaluation of policies, examining what works, and how emergent and future approaches can be more effective.

Y-PERN will contribute directly towards the formation of new insights into the key challenges facing different economies and places in Yorkshire – ranging from urban, rural to coastal. One of the key measures of success for Y-PERN will be its ability to build more connections between academics and to lay the ground for new research proposals between universities and policymakers. Thinking about the talent pipeline within our research base is also important – which means Y-PERN will work closely with early-career researchers.

Y-PERN’s Contribution to National Policy Engagement

As a higher education sector, we are moving in the right direction towards encouraging more interaction between universities and policy bodies, through the Research Excellence Framework, Knowledge Exchange Framework and Universities Policy Engagement Network. These mechanisms are now high on the agenda for universities in Yorkshire. However, we need more performance and reward mechanisms to encourage sustained progression, based on an assessment and measurement of the value of policy engagement.

Y-PERN will be part of a wider peer network, and it is important that there is joint learning and the sharing of good practice. There is huge value and potential in learning from projects and experiences outside Yorkshire. Y-PERN will make the case for more inter-sector secondments and placements – to help nurture knowledge exchange and encourage collaboration. Y-PERN could generate real impact if these arrangements were to become more of the norm in Yorkshire.

Finally, Government and its agencies should, over time, recognise the value of Y-PERN and how it can encourage greater policy engagement and co-production between Yorkshire and Whitehall, when it comes to formulating ideas on the big issues facing the country and the region. A clear illustration of devolution in action.

  • Share this post:

Yorkshire awarded £3.9m to strengthen evidence-based policymaking in the region

A new, ambitious project will connect world-leading research expertise in Yorkshire’s universities to policymakers in Councils, Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships in the region.

Research England has awarded £3.9m in funding, over three years, to a consortium led by Yorkshire Universities to establish the Yorkshire and Humber Policy Engagement and Research Network (Y-PERN).

Y-PERN’s objectives are twofold. First, it will provide policymakers with immediate insights and evidence on how to tackle the most pressing economic and social challenges facing the region. Second, the project will help to build sustainable analytical capacity and capability that will widen and deepen knowledge and understanding about Yorkshire’s future growth and long-term development.

Yorkshire Universities works to strengthen the combined contribution of the region’s universities and higher education institutions to Yorkshire’s people and places. Recent work supported by Yorkshire Universities has underpinned the rapid development of the region’s Space Cluster and the testing of new approaches to planning and strengthening workforce recruitment and retention in the Health and Care Sector.

Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Chair of Yorkshire Universities, said: “This is a unique initiative, which involves all twelve member institutions of Yorkshire Universities, drawing upon diverse and complementary research strengths. Y-PERN aligns perfectly with our new 2022-25 Strategy, which is focused on informing public policy with practice that is underpinned by research, innovation and knowledge exchange.”

By providing regional leaders and Government with direct access to research, Y-PERN will inform major policy interventions and investment decisions. The Network will also provide insights into what types of public policy have worked in the past, and what might be successful in the future.

Y-PERN will be driven by a team of Policy Fellows located within Hull and East Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and York and North Yorkshire, and advised by an independent panel of academic experts. Leeds University Business School will manage the project on behalf of the partnership that includes Yorkshire Universities; Yorkshire and Humber Councils; South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority; West Yorkshire Combined Authority; Hull and East Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership; and York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

What impact will Y-PERN have?

Yorkshire’s universities contribute £3bn each year to the region’s economy and play a critical role in generating jobs, creating innovation, talent, and enterprise, and driving productivity.

Y-PERN will harness the research talents and expertise of all Yorkshire’s universities. National and local government will be encouraged to use the findings Y-PERN presents in policy interventions that can improve the region’s prosperity, infrastructure and inward-investment.

Comments from other partners:

Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds, said: “We are delighted that Research England has awarded funding for Y-PERN. The University of Leeds is committed to civic engagement and the application of research for the benefit of communities, businesses, and the wider environment. This network will significantly contribute to our ability to support regional economic recovery from COVID.”

Professor Andrew Brown, Academic Lead for Y-PERN, and Professor of Economics and Political Economy at Leeds University Business School, said: “Y-PERN will support a wide array of academic policy engagement activities. It will aid the joined-up, evidence-based and place-based policy approach that is vital to help policymakers understand and tackle the economic challenges we face. There has never been a more crucial time to mobilise the depth and breadth of academic expertise in Yorkshire – as Y-PERN is committed to doing. I am delighted that this major investment will provide a real step-change in the collaboration between academics, policymakers, and the communities that they serve.”

Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire, said: “Y-PERN is an exciting new venture for Yorkshire, bringing together the expertise from our universities and the local knowledge of our authorities, and we are pleased to support it. It will add capacity and resource to our vital work around skills, employment, sustainability and data analysis. The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority already works closely with our universities, Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield, and this will help us build on those relationships, and boost their impact.”

Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor, said: “West Yorkshire is home to some of the best universities and academics in the world. This exciting and unique project enables us to gain invaluable expertise and insight for our work, which helps us better understand the issues facing our communities. I look forward to seeing this initiative rolled out across the whole of Yorkshire.”

James Newman OBE, Chair of Hull and East Yorkshire LEP, said: “The University of Hull has contributed significantly to the activities of LEP in Hull and East Yorkshire. The University is a much-valued anchor institution, and through its research and innovation activity, it is supporting the region’s net zero ambitions as the UK’s largest provider of clean energy and carbon capture solutions. I welcome the Hull and East Yorkshire LEP being part of this consortium and working with academic researchers to help realise our vision for a more successful and resilient region.”

Helen Simpson OBE, Chair of York and North Yorkshire LEP, said: “This is an exciting time for York and North Yorkshire, following the signing of the Devolution Deal in the summer. The University of York and York St John University are key partners in our local coalition. Our devolution proposal was, in part, successful due to the input of the two local universities. Y-PERN offers the potential to enhance the LEP and new local institutions’ relationships with higher education, which will be vital if we are to achieve the goals in our long-term plans for York and North Yorkshire.

Kersten England CBE, Chief Executive of Bradford Council and Chair of Yorkshire and Humber Councils, said: “Some of the challenges facing us across Yorkshire and the Humber, such as protecting the most vulnerable, tackling inequalities and creating sustainable growth and prosperity, have no simple solution. We have a keen enthusiasm to draw upon the best research possible and collaborate to make sure it reaches all parts of the region. Y-PERN will do this and help take our existing partnership with universities to the next level.”


Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in England’s universities. It distributes over £2 billion to universities in England every year; works to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity; and supports and challenges universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation.


Yorkshire Universities has a shared commitment to strengthen the contribution of universities and higher education institutions to the economic, social and civic well-being of people and places in Yorkshire. There are an estimated 15,900 academics based in the twelve member institutions of Yorkshire Universities, which are: Leeds Arts University; Leeds Conservatoire; Leeds Beckett University; Leeds Trinity University; Sheffield Hallam University; University of Bradford; University of Huddersfield; University of Hull; University of Leeds; University of Sheffield; University of York; and York St John University.


Through the cross-party Yorkshire Leaders Board and Yorkshire and Humber Chief Executives group, Yorkshire & Humber Councils work effectively together, for the betterment of the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber, as well as for local citizens, businesses and communities, ensuring a role and voice for the region in national debates. These arrangements bring together the twenty-two councils across the region, along with the two Mayors in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, and the combined authorities in those areas.



Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director: p.obrien@yorkshireuniversities.ac.uk, 07912 268087.

  • Share this post:

Providing Sustainability Services to Third Sector Organisations

This guest blog has been kindly contributed by Natasha Swiers, a recent Masters Student of Sustainability and Consultancy at the University of Leeds. This blog is a follow up to the contribution Natasha made at the West Yorkshire Skills Partnership ‘Sustainability Through Skills’ conference.

More organisations are getting involved in sustainability as we become more aware of the mounting threat of climate change. Organisations in the third sector play an important role in bringing sustainability efforts to marginalised areas. However, the majority of third sector organisations are unsure of where to start when it comes to integrating sustainability into their business practises.

Organisations had the opportunity to gather and debate the value of fostering sustainability across all sorts of organisations, including universities, schools, and charities, during the recent West Yorkshire Skills Partnership annual conference (WYSP). At this conference St. Luke’s Cares, LS-TEN, and I had the opportunity to discuss some of the work we had done with the community, these organisations, and how they hope to help other charities perform more sustainably.

A little about myself and the charities I worked with

I am a University of Leeds Sustainability and Consultancy Masters student. A project placement is carried out as part of my dissertation to put the skills we learnt earlier in the year into practise. My task was to create a climate action plan for LS-TEN and St. Luke’s Cares but also provide them with campaigns that they could use to include the wider public and third sector within sustainability.  

St. Luke’s Cares works with children to assist them in developing skills that will help them in the future. They also operate a charity shop where donations and furnishings are sold on Dewsbury Road.

LS-TEN works mostly with difficult teenagers who do not fit into traditional schooling systems. However, they also use outreach programmes and skatepark facilities to engage with and include the larger community in sports.

Both organisations are aware of the beneficial influence they have on the community. They do, however, want to increase their own sustainability performance to lessen their impact on climate change and encourage the communities they work with to consider sustainability.

The Project

The project consisted of the following five deliverables:

  1. Both hosts’ organisations underwent an audit to assess their present sustainability performance.
  2. A list of suggestions that was provided by the audit, will point out areas where sustainability could be enhanced in the hosts’ organisations.
  3. A climate action plan outlining how these charities might improve their performance by incorporating sustainability.
  4. Numerous campaigns addressing various community concerns.
    • Address the issue of recycling in the Beeston Hills Community.
    • Include sustainability in education through LS-TEN.
  5. A template plan that would instruct other organisations on how they too may become more sustainable (An infographic of this is included at the end of the blog).

These deliverables were successfully completed during the project to assist the hosts in achieving their short-term objectives while also demonstrating how they might do so in the future by including long-term objectives like carbon neutrality.

The WYSP conference helped establish relationships with significant organisations, like Yorkshire Universities, to share the template plan with other organisations that could find it helpful when creating their own sustainability plans.

The information in the infographic below explains the steps used in this project to help the organisation understand how and where it must improve areas to operate more sustainably. It might be used by SMEs, even if it was created with non-profits in mind.

Check out the Making a Climate Action Plan for a Charity infographic here.

  • Share this post:

The future impact of the members of Yorkshire Universities: an assessment

In this analysis we present a forecast of the impact of YU member institutions over the next five years.

The research uses historic data to predict the future impact of the twelve members of Yorkshire Universities: the universities of Bradford, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Leeds Beckett, Leeds Trinity, Leeds Arts, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam, York, and York St John, as well as the Leeds Conservatoire.

The exact methods differ depending on the data source and are detailed in the methodological note. However, we make several assumptions: that the economic and policy environment remains stable, that universities continue to be able to engage in similar activities and are supported to do so, and that demographic trends and the number and make up of businesses remains the same.

Given the widespread disruption of COVID-19, and other events with wide-reaching effects
such as the UK withdrawal from the EU, the rising cost of living, and Russia’s invasion of
Ukraine, conditions have changed markedly and will affect the forecasts. Understanding the implications of policy changes is also complex. For example, the end of support from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) programme in 2023 will mean UK nations and English regions are unable to access this funding, which has underpinned many job creation and regeneration projects. However, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) offers £2.6 billion of funding for local investment by March 2025 (although concerns have been raised about the fund itself, and the potential for a gap in funding). In addition, specific policies and institutional practices may affect the accuracy of forecasts – where known these are detailed in the methodological note.

Download the report, including the methodological note here (opens in new tab).

Analysis and design by Open Impact.
Contact: james.ransom.16@ucl.ac.uk

  • Share this post:

Yorkshire Universities publishes New Strategy on Yorkshire Day

Yorkshire Universities, the representative body for universities and higher education institutions in Yorkshire and The Humber, has today published a new Strategy, which will ‘champion’ Yorkshire as the UK’s premier region to live, work and study.

The new 2022-25 Strategy, which is underpinned by a shared vision of the power and potential of Yorkshire and its global connections, has four key priorities:

  1. Promoting the value of higher education to society, culture and the economy.
  2. Championing Yorkshire knowledge and skills.
  3. Championing civic leadership in Yorkshire.
  4. Brokering and leading partnerships.

Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Chair of Yorkshire Universities, said:

“We are delighted to launch this new Strategy on Yorkshire Day. In these uncertain and challenging times, the Strategy presents a clear framework for how universities in Yorkshire will work closer together and with partners to champion opportunity and aspiration for the common good. We are determined to use our combined voice to help change our region for the better.”

Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director, said:

“Through the new Strategy, Yorkshire Universities will actively support our members’ collective ambitions around skills, infrastructure and innovation, which are the vital ingredients to produce a more productive, prosperous and successful region.”

Download the YU 2022-25 Strategy here (opens in new tab).

Notes to Editors

Yorkshire Universities has a shared commitment to strengthen the contribution of universities and higher education institutions to the economic, social and civic well-being of people and places in Yorkshire. Its members are: Leeds Arts University; Leeds Conservatoire; Leeds Beckett University; Leeds Trinity University; Sheffield Hallam University; University of Bradford; University of Huddersfield; University of Hull; University of Leeds; University of Sheffield; University of York; and York St John University.



Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director

  • Share this post:

Professor Karen Bryan appointed new Chair of Yorkshire Universities

Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Vice-Chancellor of York St John University, has been appointed as the new Chair of Yorkshire Universities, the representative body for universities and higher education institutions in Yorkshire and The Humber. Professor Bryan will succeed Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford, whose two-year term as Chair ends on 31 July 2022.

Profile photo of Professor Karen Bryan

The core mission of Yorkshire Universities is to help build a more productive, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable region. Professor Bryan will be responsible for steering the organisation’s relationships with national and local government, devolved institutions, business, further education colleges and public sector partners.

Professor Bryan said:

“I am delighted to be taking up this new role. Through their education, research, knowledge exchange and civic activities, universities can help to create more and better opportunities for people and local communities. In Yorkshire Universities, we have a unique convenor of higher education capabilities and assets for the wider benefit of the economy, society and environment in the region.”

Welcoming Professor Bryan as Chair of the Board, Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director, said:

“I am very much looking forward to working with Karen, who has been leading our recent work designed to encourage universities and regional partners to increase their collective support for graduate employment and employability. I would also like to thank Shirley Congdon, who was Chair during a very challenging time, but whose commitment to collaboration has seen Yorkshire Universities going from strength to strength in the last two years.”  

Notes to Editors

Professor Karen Bryan joined York St John University as Vice-Chancellor in April 2020. She was previously Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Greenwich. Prior to that she was Pro Vice-Chancellor for Regional Engagement and Dean of the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at Sheffield Hallam University.

Professor Bryan qualified as a speech and language therapist from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and also gained her PhD there. Her research interests are in communication difficulties in young offenders and in forensic populations. Also, the impact of communication difficulties on access to healthcare. She is involved in the development of Registered Intermediaries working for the Ministry of Justice, and was previously a member of the Health Professions Council.

Professor Bryan is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Neuropsychology at the University of Warsaw, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. She was awarded an OBE for services to higher education in 2018. 

Yorkshire Universities has a shared commitment to strengthen the contribution of universities and higher education institutions to the economic, social and civic well-being of people and places in Yorkshire. Its members are: Leeds Arts University; Leeds Conservatoire; Leeds Beckett University; Leeds Trinity University; Sheffield Hallam University; University of Bradford; University of Huddersfield; University of Hull; University of Leeds; University of Sheffield; University of York; and York St John University.

  • Share this post:

Call to engage with the implementation of the Yorkshire & Humber Climate Commission’s Regional Climate Action Plan

The Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission is establishing a programme of ‘Delivering Impact’ sessions that will run through to early 2024 with a focus on net zero, climate resilience, nature recovery and fair and inclusive (or just) transitions in the region.

Each of the open sessions (see below) will:

  1. examine evidence on key themes
  2. review global, national and regional best practice
  3. develop links between different areas of action to encourage a joined-up approach;
  4. consider what is being done, what needs to be done, and what more could be done to deliver ambitious climate action in the region;
  5. review stakeholder perspectives on each theme, considering the views of government, business and communities/third sector groups;
  6. consider enablers/blockers and capacities for change;
  7. propose practical actions that can/should be taken and the role that the Commission and other actors can play in promoting these.

The draft outputs from the sessions will form the basis for extensive stakeholder engagements and will be fed into government and business and to the activities of the Commission moving forward.  They will also feed into the ‘State of the Region’ climate action progress review that the Commission is preparing for launch in early 2024.

We are calling on colleagues at YU members insititutions to engage with these Delivering Impact sessions. Read more about it here.

  • Share this post:

Yorkshire Universities congratulates Bradford on becoming UK City of Culture 2025

Tuesday 31 May 2022

Responding to the news that Bradford has been awarded the title of UK City of Culture 2025, Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities, said:

“This is superb news for Bradford and Yorkshire as a whole. Bradford is a fantastic choice to be UK City of Culture given the city’s rich cultural heritage and creative dynamism. Huge congratulations go the bid team, including Bradford Council and the University of Bradford, as well as the huge number of businesses and community groups from across the district who have made this happen. It is a perfect accolade and will see Bradford, alongside Leeds 2023 and other programmes in the region, driving cultural activities, investment and growth in Yorkshire over the next few years.”

  • Share this post:

Yorkshire and the Humber Student Mental Health Network

UPDATE: The recording and a collection of speaker slide decks from the day are available for you to access here on the Yorkshire and Humber Public Health Network website.

Yorkshire Universities will today (26 May) join student welfare officers and health professionals to learn more about some of the established, innovative and successful examples of improving student’s mental health in the region and across the country. There are over 212,000 students studying at universities in Yorkshire.

The event, hosted by the University of Bradford, will also see members of the Yorkshire and the Humber Student Mental Health Network and Association of Directors of Public Health discuss how better data and analysis can inform long-term planning and interventions around student mental health needs.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bradford and Chair of Yorkshire Universities, said:

“We know from research before and during the pandemic that children and young adults are facing a mental health crisis.

Covid has increased the demand for university-funded support services, and there is a much greater focus now on student mental health and wellbeing. The voices of students and staff should be central to our efforts to improve mental health in the higher education sector. We know doing this leads to improved engagement and outcomes.

Closer working between universities and the NHS has also been vital to increasing access to and coordination of mental health care for those students needing support. That is why this event is so important, bringing together universities and partners across the region to share good practice and provide collective support to address an issue that matters to us all.”


Yorkshire Universities has a shared commitment to strengthen the contribution of universities and higher education institutions to the economic, social and civic well-being of people and places in Yorkshire.

The members of Yorkshire Universities are: Leeds Arts University; Leeds Conservatoire; Leeds Beckett University; Leeds Trinity University; Sheffield Hallam University; University of Bradford; University of Huddersfield; University of Hull; University of Leeds; University of Sheffield; University of York; and York St John University.

The Chair of Yorkshire Universities is Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bradford.

  • Share this post:

What on earth is ‘levelling up’?

This blog was written by Ronalds Busulwa, PhD student at the University of Huddersfield. Winner of the PERN blog competition, an achievement he shares with Marrion (Mo) Todd. To follow Ronalds on Twitter go to @BlackstudentsMH

I am glad you asked! Imagine a mountain where some people are at the top while others are at the bottom, trying to get all the people to the same level is ‘levelling up’, in other words trying to bring something to an equal level or position compared to another. Ok not the best analogy but work with me here, it will make sense. It is to do with ensuring that no community is left behind in resource distribution, sounds great, right? You see, where power lies matters, and the root cause of the UK regional divides is ‘over-centralization’ (concentration of power or many administrative functions in one place). One wonders why the same government in power for 12 yrs of ‘un levelling up’ is calling for ‘levelling up’ now. Cynicism aside let’s sink our teeth into this.

Is there any meat on the bones of the ‘levelling up’ policy’?

Here is thing, the most fundamental flaw in the ‘levelling up’ is this, for those at the bottom to level up, those at the top need to lose something, and that seems to go against this Government’s ethos. In the North of England, Government spending has fallen by £696m since 2012 while the South has seen an increase of 7bn. Then the government abandons plans for a high-speed railway linking the North to the South, and that was it, the eastern leg of HS2 meant to connect the Midlands and Leeds was abandoned.With the HS2 which was supposed to address the North-South divide now dead, what the government is telling those in the North is “you are not worth investing in” leavingregional interconnectivity grossly reduced.

How did it get to this? Well, one school of thought is that it’s the electoral shocks that drove the regional inequalities up the Whitehall and Westminster agenda. And the fact of the matter is that it’s almost impossible for democracy to work anymore when governments are only concerned with the people who gave them power by voting for them. Therefore, levelling up is only aimed at constituencies that returned a Tory member of parliament. The intentions of ‘levelling up’ have a lot to be applauded for example, more power should be held locally, and there’s a lot to like in encouraging local government restructuring to create the establishments that are able to take on powers, a lot to applaud but am afraid that is probably the best bit in it. And if the intentions give us hope for a better future, then this in itself is a success.

The Levelling Up white paper recently released seeks to solve regional inequalities, and it’s about distribution of resources or to be blatant money. Given that ‘levelling up’ is about distribution of finances, it’s remarkable that it was hardly mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech & features vaguely only 5 times in the full Spring Statement 2022.

So, if the treasury is not fully behind this ambitious policy how can it turn into reality? To us the people levelling up is much more than a policy, it’s access to education, employment, decent public transport, life expectancy etc and it shouldn’t be just an optional extra which is nice to have.

Last thoughts Although there’s a lot to be applauded in the intentions, levelling up is perhaps unique in its scope and ambition and the real question is what will success look like? The mayor of Manchester succinctly put it ‘levelling up’ is a carefully crafted phrase designed to appeal to the gullible. Much like “Take back control”, well time will tell.

This blog was written by Ronalds Busulwa. He is a second year PhD student at the University of Huddersfield. His research is exploring the role of faith in the Mental Health of black students at University in the UK. Ronalds is currently a Mental Health practitioner and lecturer; and also an Addictions Therapist.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Yorkshire Universities, PERN or the University of Huddersfield.

  • Share this post:

Levelling up and the dangers of rebranding equality

This blog was written by Marrion (Mo) Todd, Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Huddersfield. Winner of the PERN blog competition, an achievement she shares with Ronalds Busulwa. To follow Mo on Twitter go to @MoTodd5

Why has equality been given a makeover? Why are headlines incomplete without a nod towards the levelling up agenda? Why does equality need a new buzz phrase to engage people? Are we suffering from political correctness fatigue and does levelling up provide respite from that? These are all questions that burst into my head when levelling-up became the latest political waggon. Being a literature student (whose likeness to an engineer always makes me smile), I can take things apart. So let’s deconstruct this term levelling-up to see what it hides.

Equality is about being equal, about meeting in the middle, about everyone getting a fair whack at life’s pinata to see what goodies drop out. Whilst levelling-up promotes empowerment, it also supports stasis. To me levelling up presupposes there is a system in place of haves and have nots, with the haves on top and the have nots below. The theory is that the haves empower those with less advantage to step up to the same level. What’s wrong with that? Surely, everyone on an equal footing is what we’re after. I have an answer to that – colonialism. Wasn’t colonialism marketed as a levelling up policy, looking to improve native populations by introducing Western methods and Western languages into their cultures? There is a nasty aftertaste of nineteenth century patronage that also comes with levelling up; with those in power smugly patting themselves on the back for their benevolence whilst those running towards them try to elbow each other out of the way in their fight to be the ones favoured.

Levelling up suggests the ones at the top, who have always been able to see over the wall from the start of the game, simply take time out to build boxes for everyone else to stand on. In the meantime, everyone else has to wait. Why not simply remove the wall? The wall stays intact because the wall is a supporting structure, and box making is an enterprise that can generate both labour and money. So the people who need a box to stand on end up being handed the materials and the tools to make the box, whilst the person who already enjoys the privileged view carries on unchanged. Whilst I am all in favour of box makers the world over, sitting back and thinking that providing tools for people to build boxes solves the problem, particularly whilst those already in power get to carry on building walls. That is why, if equality needs a make-over, I prefer levelling out as its upgrade. Levelling out suggests the removal of the walls, so everyone gets an equal opportunity from wherever they are to take part, and also embraces the previously recognized needs from the equality agenda, for a redistribution of wealth and resources. The world is suffering from the excesses of human activity, therefore people need to be encouraged to change, not to stand still enjoying their excess whilst encouraging others to join them.

Whilst the levelling up agenda encourages those with the resources to help those with less, it still encourages classist binary distinctions and does not appear to directly address those patronizing overtones. The lasting impression appears to be one where gratitude is expected for receiving handouts, similar to a recently released teacher being criticized for not gushing over being released when she should never have been imprisoned in the first place.

Having had my moment standing on the box I’ve made, despite my criticism of levelling up as a term, there is much to be welcomed by the amount of airtime devoted to tackling equality. But with that in mind, let us be clear it’s equality we want, not a bigger box.

Mo Todd is a married mother of two, researching Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and its relevance to current changes to masculine identity. Mo graduated with first class honours in History with English Literature in 2012. When not knee deep in academic work, Mo co-directs a publishing business called Montidots Ltd whose output mainly consists of fantasy role-playing games written and illustrated by Simon Todd.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Yorkshire Universities, PERN or the University of Huddersfield.

  • Share this post:

Plan to Improve Graduate Employment and Employability in Yorkshire – YU Launches New Report

A new report ‘Supporting Graduate Employment and Employability in Yorkshire’ published today (17 May) by Yorkshire Universities (YU) reveals how universities, students, employers and regional institutions can together help more graduates in Yorkshire enter the world of work or start up in business. In 2020/21, 212,000 students, from over 120 countries, were studying at Yorkshire’s universities, of which 68,000 graduated last year.

Written by a multi-stakeholder Task and Finish Group, convened by YU, the report features a series of recommendations on how to improve graduate employment and employability in the region. Amongst the proposals, include steps to: create more in-study and work experience opportunities; ensure there is more tailored careers and enterprise support; enhance the use of brokerage models to better connect graduates to job opportunities; provide clearer entry points within universities for employers; and run a coordinated campaign to promote the value of graduates to Yorkshire.

Welcoming the report, Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford, and YU Chair, said:

The higher education sector is a major contributor to Yorkshire’s economy, culture and society. If we are to increase social mobility and ‘level up’, then our students and graduates will be central to the success of these missions. This report rightly encourages universities to work more collaboratively and with a diverse range of students and employers, to enable more people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds who graduate in the region to realise their full potential.”

Chair of the Task and Finish Group, Professor Karen Bryan OBE, Vice-Chancellor of York St John University, said:

Universities and partners in Yorkshire currently undertake significant work, and invest heavily, to support students through their studies and as they move into and beyond graduation. Our report recommends some further practical actions that universities and local partners can take to strengthen the existing support that is available to students in Yorkshire, which should help to expand and improve access to more well-paid jobs and careers for graduates.”

You can now download the Executive Summary and the Main Report (opens in new tab).

  • Share this post:

Yorkshire Universities responds to the REF 2021 results

Responding to the publication today of the results of the UK-wide assessment of university research, conducted through the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF), Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director of Yorkshire Universities (YU), said:

“The REF is the culmination of years of hard work by the higher education sector and those who steered the process from the UK’s funding bodies. The results reveal that there is world-class research across all parts of the country, and that a significant and growing proportion is having a direct, transformational impact upon our economy, society and environment.

“I congratulate the 6,315 FTE staff in Yorkshire whose research was submitted for assessment, and to all colleagues within YU member universities. It is evident that Yorkshire’s universities have major research strengths across a broad range of subject areas, and that we have a firm basis for building stronger research collaborations between institutions in the region. If we are to level up Yorkshire and address the major opportunities and challenges we face as a region and a nation, the research capabilities of Yorkshire’s universities, alongside their contributions to innovation, skills development, enterprise and civic leadership, will be critical both now and into the future.”

  • Share this post: