Over the last month, Professor Graeme Reid (Strategic Adviser, NCUB) and I have represented NCUB at party conferences across the United Kingdom attending the Labour Party (in Brighton), Conservative Party (in Manchester) and Scottish National Party (in Aberdeen) respectively.
Each of the conferences have had a substantial volume of content on higher education, science and research and there have been an extensive number of opportunities to advance the case for university-business collaboration and specifically on the science budget. A centrepiece at each of the conferences was round table sessions on research, science and productivity convened by the Royal Society, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences chaired by Graeme.
At the Conservative Party, we were joined by Jo Johnson MP (Universities and Science Minister) and Nicola Blackwood MP (Chair, House of Commons Science and Technology select committee) for the full session. In addition there were a range of stakeholders from across the higher education system, funders of research and also business to indicate how the research community works together in order to aid productivity, and also the wider benefits of the publicly funded research base. In my contribution to the discussion, there was particular interest in the ongoing developments with the intelligent brokerage platform. Nicola Blackwood MP was particularly interested in the issue of the employability of computer science graduates, and given NCUB’s work in this area I was able to share our research to aid her deliberations.
For the Labour Party, with a new leadership team only taking office a couple of weeks beforehand policy positions were still being developed. The new Shadow HE, FE and Skills Minister, Gordon Marsden MP was active in engaging with stakeholders, and was keen to hear perspectives on how Labour should develop its policy thinking.
The SNP were very interested in the work of the Growing Value Task Force which NCUB has been working on. Professor Ian Diamond (Vice-Chancellor, University of Aberdeen) and Rob Woodward (Chief Executive, STV) as co-chairs of the task force were able to preview the initial findings from our first phase of work which was described as “the most comprehensive analysis of the R&D landscape in Scotland” and will no doubt prove to be a valuable contribution to understand the research environment in Scotland, and how it can be made to be more competitive.
There have been a range of other fringe sessions where NCUB have contributed and been represented across a range of themes including employability, talent/skills development, the science budget and productivity with a range of organisations including UniversitiesUK, CBI, University Alliance, GuildHE, Million+ and the Association of Business Schools and a range of think tanks including Demos, Policy Exchange, IPPR, Bright Blue and Reform.
Looking to the future, there are a number of landmarks which are pertinent to the university-business collaboration agenda due. The first of these will be the publication of a Green Paper which BIS have been developing, although primarily focussed on teaching excellence we know from Jo Johnson’s speech on 1st July that this will also include content which relate to the transition of graduates to the world of work. Beyond the Green Paper, the Comprehensive Spending Review looms large. The NCUB team are actively engaging with government, with a particular focus on the science and research budget which having been frozen for 5 years, looking to the future a fair, long term settlement will be crucial to help foster conditions to allow the UK to be one of the most successful and productive places in the world for successful university-business collaboration.