In a time of flux for the higher education and innovation landscape, the few remaining constants become ever more apparent.

And a consistent thread running through the deliberations of successive UK Governments leads us to one conclusion: we are experiencing the inexorable rise of localism. Driven in part by policy, and in part by necessity, places across the UK are defining their strategies, identifying their strengths and making a powerful case for themselves in the wider world.

But place-shapers serious about getting ahead in the global race need to honestly confront their weaknesses. And common across the UK is an urgent skills shortage which threatens to derail our grandest plans, both locally and nationally. According to a 2016 report by the UK Commission on Employment and Skills, as a nation we face a material shortfall in both the number of skilled workers and the employability-related soft skills that our recent graduates should possess.

The idea of a forward-looking set of local strategies without the skills concentrations to support them is a sobering one. What’s more, as traditional occupations fall due to technological advancements in the way all manner of work is done, there is a real demand for the kind of transferable, very human skills that can flex easily around strategic need. As observed in this piece, universities must work with employers, agencies and other actors to address local skills needs and equip their students with lifelong skills.

The Smart Specialisation Hub, co-delivered by the National Centre and the Knowledge Transfer Network, can help to drive the conversations that support this alignment between university supply and business demand, both now and in the future. As we set out in the Hub’s Annual Report, released this month, the most successful strategies take a holistic view to innovation development and take partnership-driven action to ensure lasting impact. And we remain ready to support, advise and empower local leaders as they grapple with these big questions.

By Andrew Basu-McGowan,
Public Affairs Manager, Smart Specialisation.