By Colin Riordan and Drew Nelson, Task Force Chairs, Growing Value Wales
In 2016, the National Centre launched the Growing Value Wales Task Force that brought together senior leaders from multiple sectors and agencies to review ways of increasing more effective partnerships and collaborations.
The work, supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) shines an important spotlight on the opportunities for Wales by harnessing the talent being developed in Welsh universities and strengthening research and development for the benefit of the nation’s economy.
Since embarking on this Task Force at the beginning of 2016 much has changed. The landscape has radically shifted particularly in the context of Brexit but also with structural changes in the global economy, driven by data analytics, quantum computing, AI, and deep-seated shifts in energy production and consumption. In Wales, a new Economic Prosperity plan has been launched, City Deals are being agreed and a major review of Tertiary education has recently been announced.
Post-Brexit Britain faces daunting challenges. More specifically, post-Brexit Wales faces daunting challenges. And this is the point; the issues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and even the English regions differ both dramatically and subtly. Wales can and should act decisively to determine its own future. It is important that stakeholders work together in a spirit of co-production to promote self-reliance as a proud nation, to find ways of taking advantage of the opportunities this new world offers. In particular, it is vital to ensure that the key actors in the Welsh Government, the City Regions, the Local Authorities, in Westminster, in business and industry and in our universities and colleges take a coordinated and strategic view of the opportunities that will exist. Funding streams such as the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Strength in Places Fund, City/ Region Deals, the pledged UK Shared Prosperity Fund and Welsh Government innovation initiatives would be more powerful, transformational and effective for the Welsh economy if the various agencies and actors involved co-ordinated their efforts.
But the issues go beyond funding: the supply side of knowledge generation must be better aligned with the demand side of knowledge exploitation. Prosperity for All has “5 priority areas – early years, housing, social care, mental health and skills, which have the potential to make the greatest contributions to longterm prosperity and well-being”. To deliver on these priorities, and to supercharge Welsh industries of the future and empower the regions to become more productive, Welsh Government must work closely with universities, industry, stakeholders and civil society to take full advantage of the Quadruple Helix approach shown to work so well in other parts of the world. A new compact between Government, both national and regional, and their stakeholders is required to help deliver this ambitious plan. Relationships need to be warm and open and communication should flow freely. Government, academics, entrepreneurs, industrialists and business people have to understand each others’ dynamics, capabilities and constraints much more comprehensively. And information exchange and relationship-building should be established and strongly developed.
The excellent products of our research expertise – recognising that economically viable innovation depends on a solid base of well-funded, curiositydriven, blue-skies research across the whole academic range – must be complemented by an excellent skills base in which young people at the start of their working lives, as well as those who wish to change direction or increase their skill level, are equally well served. And in which the needs of employers are seriously catered for. Above all, there must be a sense of common purpose.
“The whole of Wales deserves a modern, forward-looking knowledge economy that takes account of the nation’s economic traditions and adapts them for a new world outside the EU.”
We should be at the forefront of a growing economy in which Wales becomes a byword for prosperity in all in regions. We need, in short, to grow value in all senses: economically, socially and culturally. But that success will only come about if all involved are prepared to play their part.
The final Task Force called for a New National Innovation Compact to be formed. The aim of the compact is simple: to promote prosperity and wellbeing for the people of Wales. Universities have convening power and the capacity to offer a neutral space for debate.
This must be a distinctively Welsh response to this increasingly confused global world, where technology is hollowing out industries, whilst at the same time creating a vibrant entrepreneurial environment for those able to take advantage of the possibilities. Short and mediumterm initiatives are understandable responses to a rapidly-changing environment, but agreeing, aligning and applying an innovation compact, with clear give and take on all sides, is a fundamental pre-requisite of Welsh success and the economic action plan.
The elements of The National Innovation Compact must be enduring (at least five years), be grounded in actionable reciprocation, be a strong balance of rights and responsibilities, and report back to an Innovation Compact Commission, composed of leaders drawn from across the Welsh spectrum of government, business, public and third sector, as well as vicechancellors and heads of schools and colleges.
To take this forward Cardiff University has expressed a willingness to work with other interested parties to organise and host a summit on the concept of a National Innovation Compact. We look to work with colleagues and stakeholders in Wales and beyond to make this happen to bring benefit and impact for Wales.
This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.