It is appropriate that the coat of arms of the University of East London features the phoenix, the mythical bird of rebirth and renewal. In a literal sense, the University was reborn from the ashes when a fire burnt the original building, then known as the West Ham Technical Institute, to the ground in 1900.

We have kept reinventing ourselves over the decades to respond to the needs of students, employers and our community. We began in the second industrial revolution, when steam was king, and are now focused on providing a careers-1st education that equips our graduates for life in the fourth industrial revolution and beyond.

Under our Vision 2028 strategy, the University of East London has stepped back from the way in which it was operating previously and rebuilt from the ground up an holistic set of activities that will enable us to meet our Industry 4.0 goals, with entrepreneurship and business engagement sitting at the heart of that ambition.

We literally ripped up the curriculum of every single degree programme in the University and rewrote them so they are specifically directed towards the needs of employers and the 4th industrial revolution. We also integrated into the new curricula our Professional Fitness & Mental Wealth modules, which are there to support the student on that entrepreneurial journey towards their future employment.

This starts from the moment the student arrives at the University of East London by building a set of identified skills and competencies. As a result, every single student in the University – whether they’re studying nursing or fine art – is on a clear pathway that will develop not just enterprise and entrepreneurship skills, but also the soft skills needs of future employers. It also builds students’ mental resilience so that they can overcome the challenges that they will face when they set up their own business or seek to drive change within existing industries. Like with a stick of rock, entrepreneurship skills run through everything that we do.

We are building on our heritage – delivering higher-level skills in response to the second industrial revolution – to equip our students for the future world of work in the fourth industrial revolution. The changes we have made have already had a genuine impact.

Beyond this core we’ve made sure that all of the other integrated parts of the University drive towards this same goal: preparing students for future jobs and using our facilities to drive changes within these industries. We also work on new-product generation, with our students and businesses working together on design-led solutions to future problems.

This is most evident the partnership which we have established with world-leading Tongji University in Shanghai. Our main campus, beside the now-quiet waters of the George V Dock in London’s docklands, occupies a site once dominated by cranes, warehouses and the hubbub of international commerce. Likewise, 5,700 miles away in Shanghai, Tongji University is also located within former docklands, on the Yangpu riverside.

Where once boats and trade would have linked these two entrepôts, now we have built an academic partnership that has recently sprouted its first major collaborative venture: the interdisciplinary Sustainable Futures Project. The brief is to reimagine the modern riverside through the design and construction of a multipurpose, sustainable retail outlet utilising new technologies.

This project, a collaboration between students and staff at both universities, is a critical element of the proposed new Royal Docks Centre for Sustainable Innovation, Enterprise and Communities. It will demonstrate our dedication to generating innovative solutions for the local community to address challenges facing them after Covid-19.

This project will be integrated into our MA Architecture curriculum, supported by up to 10 student consultants from related disciplines. In keeping with our focus on careers-ready skills, the project will provide participants with an employability-enhancing experience and develop their intercultural competencies.

Students from both universities will meet virtually on a monthly basis to progress the project and a series of lectures/seminars will also be arranged. Rather than the telegrams and phone calls of the docks heyday, the project will make use of innovative technologies to facilitate collaboration, including the use of Amazon Web Services resources and platforms, as well as Chinese platforms.

The results of the project will be presented to planning authorities and delivery/ investment bodies, such as the Royal Docks Team and Shanghai Yangpu Riverside Development Corporation. The partnership will showcase how international collaboration sparks innovation and what can be achieved. It will also act as a springboard for deeper collaboration between the two universities. This ambitious project is viewed as the start of a process ultimately leading to a series of new joint Chinese/UK companies being grown at facilities in the Yangpu Riverside and the Royal Docks – transferring seamlessly as necessary between both countries. The partnership is a high strategic priority for both institutions.

Before the pandemic the world was already changing and the University of East London was changing with it. The onset of the pandemic has accelerated our innovation and connectivity, evolved new ways of working and increased the scale of our ambitions both in the UK and with our overseas partners both academic and commercial. Working together in partnership we have successfully delivered a step change in our transformation journey over the last two academic years – it is in partnership that we will take steps forward in 2021 and on toward the delivery of our ambitious Vision 2028 targets.