An Active City is a Competitive City

Cities are competing in a global knowledge economy. 

With the greater mobility of business and labour, the personal choices and lifestyle preferences of highly skilled workers are increasingly important in order to compete. 

Employers are having to be much more strategic as they attempt to win over employees. Quality of life is one major factor. This involves not just how employers treat their staff and adapt their working environments, but also the broader lifestyle offer that can be accessed by employees based on their location. The quality of life that can be achieved is therefore growing significantly in terms of the impact it is having on the location decisions of business. 

Having experienced other parts of the UK throughout my career, I know that Bristol offers an attractive lifestyle. Recognised as the best place to live in the UK and as one of the UK’s core cities, it is no surprise then that in addition to the high-tech engineering companies, biosciences, and legal and financial services, the highly mobile and innovative creative and technology industries have also decided to base themselves here in the West. 

Whether that has been down to the environment on offer or the mindset and talent pool generated by our universities and businesses, we know we face challenges for the future if we are to maintain and advance our competitive position.  

Quality of life is key. Bristol is doing well for green spaces, walking and cycling (for those in the inner centre of the city), but less well on skills, schools and family living spaces, and falling down badly on high car use and poor supporting infrastructure. This is mainly down to a lack of decent joint working, short-sighted planning and poor delivery across the city and extended city-region. Transport is the obvious one – which the Mayor and others are working on – but equally housing, health and education are hugely important. 

An active city with great living and easy access to where you work must be our goal. 

If we get it right in Bristol over the next few years we can create the space, infrastructure and vibrancy we need to really thrive in a competitive future. This will enable us to attract more innovative businesses and individuals, and create the high value clusters in areas we have yet to imagine, creating a virtuous circle that will drive forward Bristol’s position and reputation on the global stage.   

Achieving this involves the city-region’s leaders, citizens and employers working together to plan and shape an attractive future. 

Business has a major role in creating this environment. Business must think big, bold and broad to secure success. They need use their position and influence for place shaping, to create the best environment for both living and working. 

If we can create an efficient, affordable, green and sustainable public transport infrastructure, and create great housing to complement the cycle ways and paths to encourage health and wellbeing and connect people to the place in which they live and work – the city-region will thrive. 

As Vice-Chancellor of one of the largest universities in the country, which is part of the Healthy Universities Group (actively engaged in researching and influencing how we can deliver a step change), I know the difference health and well-being makes at an institutional level. I also know the importance of the broader environment to our staff and in attracting and retaining the talent we need to succeed. 

We need to work together and show strong collective leadership to create a true and sustained advantage in an increasingly competitive global knowledge economy – to the benefit of business, families and individuals throughout the city-region.

Anticipation. Disruption. Excellence.

Students, businesses, government and society are all demanding something new and different from the higher education sector. We need new ways to deliver fresh thinking and ideas to secure the UK’s future competitiveness. 

The evolution of Alliance universities shows just how innovative we can be and the extent to which we have played the role of disruptive challengers changing the sector as a whole for the better. With leading courses meeting the demands of living and working in a modern, global economy; 89% of Alliance university graduates employed six months after graduation; 31% of graduate start-ups that survive three years or more; over a fifth of the UK’s top research in engineering, allied health and design; over 20,000 business links including 13,000 with SMEs; and an estimated economic impact of £10bn – we are not only defining the shape of the higher education sector, but importantly, the UK’s global competitiveness.

Alliance universities are already leaders in our cities and regions, working with partners to develop and deliver strategies for growth. With a growing political clamour for devolution to cities and regions, our strengths and position are well-aligned to the priorities of the government and its future thinking.

Working collectively in identifying the needs of the future economy and helping the UK compete as a knowledge economy in the 21st Century, will be essential to our continued success. At the University Alliance Summit today we explored innovative and ambitious new ways in which we can achieve this and collectively further drive forward the UK’s competitiveness. 

One example is our Doctoral Training Alliance which heralds a new approach to postgraduate research opportunities and to Alliance universities working collaboratively together. With the first DTA in Applied Biosciences for Health starting in October 2015, the DTA is a clear example of the direction in which University Alliance is travelling, clearly breaking away from the confines of traditional ‘mission group’ definitions.

With ideas from today and the development of a new strategic framework for the next five years, spearheaded by Alliance CEO Maddalaine Ansell, we are well positioned to push the boundaries even further.

It was very clear from the Summit today that the University Alliance continues to be an innovative and enterprising force in this rapidly-changing higher education sector, delivering a new kind of excellence for students, for our communities, and the UK.

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.

Fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship

What role do universities play in fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship? That was one of the questions posed to our panel today at the annual Guardian Forum event. This is a critical agenda – our capacity for innovation will be key to our overall competitiveness and productivity in the UK, as much of the Western world enters into a period of economic recovery. 

We already know that 80% of new jobs are in high-skill areas, placing universities and our graduates at the heart of the future workforce.

But, it will be the innovation and enterprise aptitude of our graduates that will be most central to the UK’s success. It will be how we exploit new technologies – such as graphene, composite materials, or the use of robotics – that will determine our future.

This is one area where there is a clear cross-party consensus! But we need to push this further – to ensure that our ideas of a successful graduate outcome, and those of the government and the public, are not constrained to securing a traditional ‘graduate job’.

Clearly as a sector, there is a differing emphasis placed on this across universities. And there are a variety of interesting ideas out there that will be more relevant or practical to some institutions rather than others – such as having a venture capital fund to invest in student start-ups, or using crowd-sourcing technology to engage partners and identify where to invest.

At UWE Bristol we are ideally placed as a regional hub for innovation and enterprise. We are located in a thriving and ambitious city-region, with a LEP that has been credited as the best in the country.

Whilst many universities can point to incubator spaces, enterprise internships and funding, student enterprise societies (at UWE Bristol – UWE InnovEnters and Enactus), workshops and masterclasses, and one-to-one advice, it is in embedding enterprise activity into the curriculum where the real wins can be made.

This year at UWE Bristol we introduced an exceptionally innovative new programme – Business (Team Entrepreneurship) – which challenges traditional ideas about a degree. Students work in a high-tech hub rather than a classroom, they have coaching sessions and workshops rather than compulsory lectures – and it is running a real business that drives the students’ learning.

The students love the programme. It has inspired and engaged those that might have previously been put off by the traditional format of many university courses. And already, some of our students have been to parliament to contribute to a report on future leaders and entrepreneurship. This is a great model that we are learning from across the University.

Indeed, I think it prompts us all to consider how we best foster the entrepreneurial spirit in our students – after all they are the leaders and shapers of the future.

Visit from Number 10

Today I was very pleased to welcome Chris Lockwood, Deputy Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, to UWE Bristol and share with him our ambitious plans for the future and some of the fantastic research insights and opportunities we are generating. Chris was impressed with our developments in robotics and biosensing, and our role in driving regional economic growth. We also discussed the University Alliance’s Uni_Funding project and options to create a more sustainable funding system that can support the growth that we need in the UK HE sector.

Innovation driving patient care

Earlier this week at UWE Bristol we looked into the future – focusing on innovation in healthcare at a one-day conference organised by Health Education South West, the Royal Society of Medicine and Bristol Robotics Laboratory. In particular we considered the critical issue of how we keep pace with the ever increasing demand from our ageing population.

The good news is we are generally living longer! But that means the increased possibility of developing long term conditions or complex co-morbidity – and this costs money! It isn’t helped by our current focus on the ‘tip of the iceberg’ – treating those that are ill rather than keeping more people healthy and independent for longer so that they don’t, in effect, clog up our health care system.

So what is the answer?

Robotics, remote care and telemedicine certainly offer some interesting solutions that will help shape the future of healthcare.  

At the conference we sped into the future and looked at surgical robots – exploring the world of haptics. Whilst a surgeon’s eyes, hands and touch work together to explore a surgical site and tissues, when using robotic surgical instruments you have no haptic feedback – you’ve lost the sense of touch. Researchers at UWE Bristol are looking to develop robots that can feed back to surgeons what they are feeling – e.g. resistance, size and texture of tissues.

Of course whilst surgical robots are fascinating the real advances that can reach significant numbers of patients are in telemedicine, telehealth and telecare. We must find solutions to the chronic problems we see in A&E. We need to ensure we are creating safe environments for more patients to self-manage at home. The costs of delivering the service – £0.013p to assess digitally, against £25 to get a GP and £500 to get an ambulance! The technology is not the issue – it is the selection of patients, clarity of case management and care pathways that are critical to success.

We need to better engage with what citizens are looking for and how they are prepared to participate in the changes required.

We have to learn quickly and integrate, adopt and spread best practice much faster than we have done in the past.

Our patients are often faster than the clinicians treating them. The power of global patient networks is, as yet, untapped. The influence that such networks can have is great, but we have to learn to use them more powerfully.

Demand for healthcare is increasing and budgets are reducing in real terms. We also have a diminishing workforce. In this context it is even more critical that we design our services and systems for the future – instead of focusing on solving the problems of the past or present.

We have to change, be less precious about how things are now and open our minds to adopting different practice and different care pathways. Doing more of the same harder and faster simply will not work!

I hope the work of UWE Bristol and the Academic Health Science Network will lift heads, challenge and create novel solutions, implement and spread what is best for our patients – and importantly, we have to stop the political ping-pong game we have with health.