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.

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.