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.

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.

Tardis arrives!

Today we welcomed the arrival a 20 foot TARDIS-like container to our Frenchay Campus. The container houses the prototype for a novel water treatment system that has the capacity to revolutionise the lives of people across the globe by providing access to clean drinking water at source.

The container will now undergo final tests before being transported to Eastern Europe where it will be tested in situ. Following these tests the aim is for the containers to go into mass production.

In this film Professor Darren Reynolds explains how the system works.

This work being conducted by Professor Darren Reynold’s team and our partners, Portsmouth Aviation, Pentair and Bridge Biotechnology is world class. This is science for the real world, addressing urgent problems through positive partnership working. It is about fixing something critical right now and transforming lives. We are immensely proud of this work – it is showcasing UWE Bristol at the top of its game.

Value of a degree

The value of a degree is once again in the spotlight, with a misleading focus on immediate outcomes (Half of recent UK graduates stuck in non-graduate jobs, says ONS, 19 November), and suggestions that degrees are superfluous to many jobs – in particular nursing (Vince Cable: university degrees ‘superfluous to many jobs’, 13 November).

I strongly disagree.

With regards to nursing, I have worked in health and academia for many years and I would highlight just how different healthcare delivery is now. We need practitioners who can problem solve, deal with the complex needs of patients, manage technologies and people, work quickly, safely and accurately under highly pressured scenarios and support effective team working. These are skills that are developed as part of higher education.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, Professor Paul Gough, was featured on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme yesterday challenging more broadly the very misleading assertions we have been hearing about the value of a degree today.

University is not just about preparing students for the immediate workplace. It is about ensuring that our students can engage and flourish in a rapidly changing world, where knowledge and understanding are at a premium, in what is an information rich environment.

Our economy in the UK is increasingly knowledge-based. As Libby Hackett, CEO of University Alliance recently commented, OECD data shows that we will need more, not fewer, highly skilled graduates to meet the future demands of our economy. Of new jobs created between now and 2025, 80% are predicted to be at graduate level.

There can be no doubt that change will continue at pace, based on technologies that are beyond our current imagination and creating jobs that we have not yet thought of. The adaptability and agility that our graduates develop through their university experience is highly sought after – and crucial to patterns of economic growth and social development in the UK. They need to be life-long learners, able to engage with and apply different types of knowledge as they need it throughout their lives.

At UWE Bristol, we focus on preparing our students for this environment through our real-world approach, and the many opportunities we offer for our students to apply ideas in the workplace and make contacts with employers. We focus not only on using cutting edge case studies to engage with complex theoretical concepts but also:

  • Using advanced simulations of real-life scenarios
  • Running one of the largest paid undergraduate internship schemes in the UK
  • Linking students into ‘live’ projects with communities and business
  • Professional one-to-one careers support
  • Innovative and high quality employer-engaged courses

Degrees are changing. Our new ‘Team Entrepreneurship’ is an excellent example of a new approach to studying and learning about business, where students set up and run their own team company that will earn money finding and completing real projects for real organisations.

And our approach pays off. At UWE Bristol we are very proud of the success of our students, being the 6th best university for employability and 2nd best for the value-added we bring to our students.

We need to bring these opportunities to more not fewer students. The premium for graduate skills will only continue to rise in the future, given the shape of our future workforce. We need to support more people to be the agile lifelong learners that our economy and society need for 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.