Strategy 2020 – one year on

One year on from the launch of our Strategy 2020 and this week I have been out at each of our main campuses discussing the strong progress we have made, our external challenges and opportunities, and our priorities for the next year and beyond.

It was great to reflect with colleagues on our new UWE film, the experiences of our students, and how excited, confident and proud our students are of this University and the opportunities and inspirational environment our colleagues create.

I continue to be impressed by the passion, commitment and innovations of colleagues across the University, supporting our collective ambitions and challenging us and each other to really driving these forward. Our colleagues and students give me huge confidence in the future. UWE Bristol is a great place to work and learn, we have had a very successful academic year and we are investing confidently in our people, estate and infrastructure.

The most important investment we can make

Investment in education is the most important investment we can make.

That was one of the main messages delivered by John Cridland CBE, Director-General of the CBI, at our annual Bolland lecture this week.

He also stressed the importance of business-university collaborations, suggesting it should be natural for any business to ‘twin’ with its university, praising UWE Bristol’s achievements as an entrepreneurial university.

He was particularly impressed with the calibre of our students on our BA Business (Team Entrepreneurship) and the innovative approach we have taken, which sees students learn by setting-up and running their own team company that will earn money finding and completing real projects for real organisations. Students from the programme have already been to the Houses of Parliament twice in the last four months, invited to provide evidence to government on future leaders and entrepreneurship.

Only last month, we saw our entrepreneurial students launch a crowdfunding campaign to bring to market an innovative 3D printer accessory. OmniDynamics smashed their target on kickstarter in less than 24 hours and have attracted some serious coverage in the technology world.

We also discussed our strong engagement with the thriving SME sector in the Bristol city region, through leading regional innovation networks in key growth sectors, running our £4m innovation for growth programme, and of course through the placements, project work, internships, and the highly skilled talent pipeline our students provide. UWE Bristol already has one of the largest paid internship programmes in the higher education sector – run largely with SMEs – we offer Enterprise Internships to support our students to become the entrepreneurs of the future, and earlier this month we launched our Green Internships which will help businesses to develop green policies and practices. Many of these initiatives are thanks to our award winning Employability and Enterprise Service, which was recognised earlier this year as the best in the sector at the NUE awards.  

Our plans for the future are ambitious. Earlier this month we were one of only 20 universities in the UK to be awarded the Small Business Charter, which not only recognises the enormous amount of work we already do with small businesses in the region, but also means that we can access funds to increase our support for business growth.

But most importantly, UWE Bristol boasts one of the most impressive employment records in the higher education sector, being recognised by the Telegraph as one of the top 8 universities to go to for getting a job. That means working successfully with employers and business to widen the reach of transformational opportunities to maximise the potential of individuals, so they can realise their ambitions – as business leader, entrepreneur, practitioner and professional – which of course also brings huge benefits right across our society.

Claiming the global technology university space

Alliance universities are all excellent global institutions, but they are often better understood and recognised for their excellence in many global markets than they are in our own domestic context.

Yes we all have deep roots in our cities and regions, recognised for our massive economic and social contribution. But in the UK our strengths do not always shine through in the national public consciousness. 

Everywhere else in the world our universities would be recognised as part of an elite group of highly regarded technological universities that sit alongside the traditional research-intensives. The Australian Technology Network of universities, who the University Alliance are partnered with, sit prominently alongside the Group of 8 (the Australian Russell Group equivalent) as a positive alternative choice to the more traditional university. Similarly there is a prestigious group of technological universities in the States such as MIT or CalTech, there are the Indian Institutes of Technology, and the many other elite technological institutions in HE sectors around the world.  For all sorts of reasons, and largely because of the problem we have with the term ‘technical’ or even ‘technology’ in this country, we do not have such a group here in the UK. But we could, and in my view we should.

This has already become how Alliance universities market themselves abroad. Now is our time to collectively challenge the market in the UK. Traditional universities do not have the monopoly on all the leading courses and research in the UK. 

I believe we need to adopt a profile that boldly identifies Alliance universities as Global Technology Universities, specializing in technology, applied science, design and the professions. We need to take ownership of this gap in the market.

This was the view I shared at the University Alliance Summit held at University of Greenwich today. There was significant energy around this idea and the benefits this positioning would bring for our universities and the students and publics that we serve.

We are being ambitious as we set out a vision for the next few years, where University Alliance is not just recognised as a strong, leading voice for our universities but as a group of outstanding universities that offer an excellent and ‘first choice’ alternative in the global market.