Introducing YU’s new Policy and Research Officer

Marina Tapley, Policy and Research Officer

I joined Yorkshire Universities (YU) in November as the new Policy and Research Officer. After being part of the Executive Team for over a month, I am taking the opportunity to introduce myself, and to reflect on what I have enjoyed getting involved with at YU so far, and what I am most looking forward to in this role.

I recently attended a Yorkshire University myself; I am a graduate in International Relations and French from the University of Leeds. During my studies, I covered a broad range of topics, but focused on the theme of security and linked security to UK climate policy in my dissertation, where I examined the reactions of different actors to the climate crisis. I also worked on counter-terrorism research, as part of a Laidlaw Research and Leadership Scholarship that enabled me to co-author a journal article and policy brief, as well as to present my research at academic conferences.

One of my favourite parts of student life was the clubs and societies I was involved with. I am passionate about environmental and social justice, so I was especially proud to help establish the University of Leeds Student-Staff Climate Coalition from its inception during my final year. I am really optimistic about the roles that YU and its member institutions can play in our region’s response to the climate crisis and in particular their relationship with the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission (YHCC). Since starting at YU, I have learned about the work of the YHCC Research & Evidence Panel, including its current mapping exercise of existing expertise, and I am excited to see how this will support the implementation of the new YHCC Climate Action Plan. Universities are vital in helping the region address the climate emergency, and I hope to help YU coordinate collaboration in this area.

As part of my undergraduate studies, I also spent a year abroad in Brussels working for a consultancy firm, IBF International Consulting, and had the opportunity to support an EU-funded capacity building project, Election Observation and Democracy Support (EODS). At EODS, I managed and updated a database of caselaw relating to electoral and political rights. I am enthusiastic to build on my interest in political systems within a different context to improve my understanding of the governance structures in the region at an exciting time of change, following the election of the first West Yorkshire Mayor, now in situ alongside the Mayor of South Yorkshire. I am interested to see how devolution evolves in Yorkshire and how universities can support existing and emerging leadership within the region.

After graduating, I worked for a domestic abuse charity on a pilot project, in partnership with Birmingham City Council, providing tailored housing support to women fleeing domestic violence. In this role, I saw some of the barriers facing university students trying to flee domestic abuse, particularly given that most full-time university students are not eligible for housing benefit to cover the cost of emergency accommodation, such as refuge. Since starting at YU, I have continued to work in this area, supporting an ongoing evidence review on the safety of women and girls, commissioned by the Place Based Economic Recovery, Regeneration and Resilience Network (PERN) and led by the University of Huddersfield. The evidence review will enable the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to develop a new strategy to support the safety of women and girls, a key manifesto pledge of the West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin. Through my role at YU, I hope to contribute further to this collaboration, which aims to improve prevention of gender-based violence and support victims and survivors. I am also looking forward, more broadly, to help facilitate academic research expertise to help shape policy and support local leadership.

As someone who graduated in 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I welcome the fact that universities in Yorkshire are working closer together to support students and graduates. One example is the Yorkshire and the Humber Student Mental Health Network, which brings together the region’s universities and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to encourage greater collaboration around mental health support for students.  I have also been involved in YU’s Graduate Labour Market Task & Finish Group, which aims to support graduate employment and enterprise. Here, it has been fascinating to learn about the vast range of initiatives that exist to support students and graduates to access employment in Yorkshire, and the potential to strengthen the region’s offer further.

One of main reasons I wanted to work for YU is to contribute towards the organisation’s key role in facilitating broad partnerships with a range of actors across the region, which aim to help reduce inequities and create a more inclusive region.  Universities are increasingly focused on their place within local communities and how they support local and regional development, as illustrated in the framework agreed by YU and Yorkshire and Humber Councils in their recent Memorandum of Understanding.

As YU’s Policy and Research Officer, I have an excellent opportunity to put into practice the policy and research skills that I have learned during my studies and since graduation. I am looking forward to continuing my development across a wide range of interesting topics covered by YU’s varied work. Personally, I am also delighted to have the opportunity to move back home to Yorkshire, and to deepen my knowledge and understanding of, and connection to, this brilliant region.

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YU’s take on the 2021 NCUB State of the Relationship Report

Marina Tapley, Policy and Research Officer

On Friday 3 December the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) published their State of the Relationship 2021 report and held an online launch event. This think piece reflects on the report and event, as well as situating them within the context of the relationships between universities and businesses in Yorkshire.

Context from the UK Government

Collaboration between universities and business has a key role to play in fostering innovation and developing talent, which is needed to meet the government’s ambition for the UK to lead on science and innovation. George Freeman, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, spoke at the State of the Relationship launch event and stressed that there is agreement from the whole cabinet that science, technology and innovation need to be at the heart of the economy. Freeman said that there is a cross government commitment to the UK becoming a “science superpower” and an “innovation nation”, as backed up by announcement of increases in public R&D funding to £20bn by 2024-25 and creating conditions for further private investment. Freeman also emphasised that the government is committed to spreading funding to support clusters all around the country and recognising that a wide range of universities are at the forefront of innovation, technology and business engagement.

Key Data

The data in the new NCUB report primarily covers the period from July 2019 – August 2020. Importantly, this is the first data covering the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the period does also combine data from immediately before the pandemic as well. One of the key findings of the State of the Relationship report was that interactions between universities and businesses fell by nearly a third (31%) in 2019-20, down from a record high in the previous reporting period. Significantly, this fall in interactions was disproportionately split by company size, with interactions with large businesses falling only 2%, while interactions with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) fell by 39%. It was highlighted that while the pandemic will have had a large impact on these figures, other issues, such as Brexit, had contributed towards decreased SME engagement. Despite the fall in total interactions, commercialisation metrics continued to strengthen, with a 20% increase in licences granted, a 9% increase in patents and the continuing importance of spin-outs.

Collaboration Trends

Three key collaboration trends were identified in the report:

  • “The rise and rise of the innovation district”
  • “Spin-ins spin out new opportunities”
  • “Building the collaborative workforce of the future”

The growing interest in innovation places highlights the continuing importance of geographical proximity, even with moves towards online working. Nexus at the University of Leeds was spotlighted in the NCUB report as part of “a new generation of innovation places”, with the rise of innovation districts or quarters within cities and increasing focus on using innovation clusters to address broader societal issues. Dr Martin Stow, Nexus Director, contributed to the report by highlighting the importance of innovation ecosystems as “a catalyst for creativity, collaboration and community”, creating economic and social benefits at all geographic levels from local to global. Benefits of innovation places include providing education and employment into highly skilled jobs, which supports social mobility and inclusive growth. Stow emphasised the role universities can play as a catalyst by bringing together knowledge, talent, facilities, and finance. Nexus specifically plays a role in creating an environment that addresses business needs and fosters connections between a diverse community, supporting innovative solutions, high growth businesses and impactful products and services. There are a range of other examples of innovation hubs across the region, including the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC) in Huddersfield and the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID) in Sheffield, which has secured an additional £763,000 in government funding for its further development.

These innovation places directly support spin-outs and the growing importance of spin-ins. The NCUB report describes spin-ins as “companies that benefit from university inventions, research, technologies and/or facilities, often in return for an equity stake”. Centres like Nexus and 3M BIC provide a clear access point to help businesses tap into university resources and so encourage spin-ins. Nexus provides a base for a diverse range of companies including global high growth businesses, providing support around: community and networks; research and innovation; skills and talent; workspace and facilities. 3M BIC also supports a range of businesses, focusing on SMEs, and help is centred around access to knowledge, support, technology and facilities. The University of Hull’s Aura Innovation Centre focuses on helping businesses with carbon reducing initiatives through support with funding, facilities, skills and knowledge.

Building a collaborative workforce is another important area for universities and businesses to work together, and it was highlighted that there is a need for better flows between academia, training and industry. Universities have a key role in developing talent and helping to address skills gaps, but there is also a need for talent pathways through academia and industry to flow in both directions to allow the effective exchange of knowledge and skills. This is an area where Yorkshire Universities aims to support existing and emerging initiatives in the region, including convening a specific task and finish group on the graduate labour market, bringing together representatives from universities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and businesses around the topic of graduate employment.

There are many existing initiatives across Yorkshire that facilitate collaboration around employment and ongoing training opportunities. There are partnerships, between universities, local authorities and businesses, that aim to support graduates to find work in their city of study and help address skills gaps. Examples include #InLeeds and the RISE programme in Sheffield, which specifically connects to SMEs. There are also initiatives to support ongoing training and upskilling of SME leaders in areas such as management and digital skills to support growth and innovation, as is the case for Help to Grow, a government backed programme supported by Leeds Beckett University. There are also a range of sector specific groups and networks, which encourage collaboration between universities and industry across the region and support talent pipelines, including the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network, White Rose Industrial Physics Academy, Connected Campus (Screen Yorkshire) and Space Hub Yorkshire. Yorkshire’s universities also offer a range of support around employability and entrepreneurship, including support for start-ups, agencies for freelancers, placements and projects within courses, careers fairs and talks, careers services and platforms, and employability skills embedded in the curriculum.

Collaboration with SMEs

Strengthening SME engagement should be a key priority moving forward given the large fall (-39%) in total interactions highlighted in NCUB’s report. This was addressed at the launch event where the importance of reducing timescales and bureaucracy, as well as increasing clarity around intellectual property rights in any collaboration, were highlighted as key steps that could help increase SME engagements. It was emphasised that collaboration could represent just one project for a university or large company, but it takes up much more relative capacity for an SME and could be their entire business, meaning they are particularly vulnerable to changes in timescales and red tape. There are already many initiatives that place a particular focus on collaboration with SMEs in the region, some of which have already been mentioned above. It is also worth drawing attention to the work of other organisations and partnerships in facilitating and coordinating these relationships between universities and SMEs. For example, Leeds City Region LEP runs the Skills for Growth programme which connects SMEs with local schools, colleges and universities around skills gaps, talent and productivity. Another example is the work of York & North Yorkshire LEP around local graduates supporting SMEs with digital skills for business recovery and a partnership with the University of York on supporting graduates into jobs with SMEs. The Go Higher West Yorkshire partnership also has a range of activities in this area including their Skills Group working with higher and further education partners on opportunities for graduate employment and employer engagement, particularly supporting SME engagement.

Collaboration to Tackle Global Challenges

Another key theme highlighted in the NCUB report was the importance of working together to tackle complex challenges and find innovative solutions that surpass existing structures. The contribution of Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, and Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Innovation, to the report highlighted the importance of collaboration over competition to help address complex and interconnected global issues through innovation and entrepreneurship. To work towards this, it was highlighted that projects should include diverse networks (from universities, industry and policy) throughout all stages of development and implementation to allow a better understanding of the problem from the beginning and encourage more inclusive solutions. Other actions highlighted as important for collaboration included: clear entry points; themed networking events; efforts to reduce inequality; use of innovative technology and training in digital skills. Against this context, it was reassuring to read that more Vice-Chancellors are prioritising, in their institutional strategies, regional impact and employer engagement over peer competition.

Broad Networks of Collaboration

Engagement between universities and businesses should not be viewed in isolation, instead it should be considered as a key aspect within broader ecosystems of collaboration with policymakers and other education providers, as well as other areas of the public and third sector. It is also important that collaboration and innovation between universities and businesses is not just seen in terms of science and technology, but also across all sectors and domains. Yorkshire Universities is contributing directly to facilitating broad networks of collaboration through involvement in the Regional Development Group and the West Yorkshire Innovation Network (WYIN). In the last WYIN meeting there were presentations spotlighting the role of universities in the region including the 3M BIC in Huddersfield and the role of Leeds Beckett in the Help to Grow programme. Higher education providers and businesses will need to work closer together, and with a wide range of actors, including further education providers, local and combined authorities, and civil society, to ensure that innovation drives greater inclusive growth and that collaboration efforts truly meet the needs of society at all levels.

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Graduates, Jobs and Levelling Up Yorkshire

Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director

Last week, the Queen’s Speech set out the government’s legislative programme for the next session of Parliament, with two bills in particular likely to have a direct impact on the higher education system. In this blog, I frame my comments around the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which is situated alongside the government’s commitment to ‘Level Up’ the regions, and in particular the proposal, as set out in the Queens Speech, to bring more jobs and training to people where they live.

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Climate + culture + collaboration: a reflection

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.

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Collaboration is key: insight into civic partnerships in Leeds

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.

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Innovators without borders

James Ransom, YU Associate

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.

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‘Civic Universities’ in Yorkshire

Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has asked DfE and BEIS civil servants to work with the UPP Foundation to take forward the proposals published by the Civic University Commission (CUC) in its recent report. Over 40 universities have, to date, signed up to work towards Civic University Agreements, which form a key recommendation in the CUC report.

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