World-renowned experts including the co-author of a Nobel Peace Prize winning report on climate change will discuss the vital role universities play in tackling global challenges at York Festival of Ideas.

As part of a major Festival Focus Day, What Have Universities Ever Done For Us?, experts from across the UK and beyond will gather at the Ron Cooke Hub, University of York on Saturday 8 June.

The day will feature discussions about the future role of higher education in addressing global challenges such as climate change, as well as the role of universities in advancing social justice and social mobility. The debate will also focus on the vital importance of continued investment in arts and humanities and the need for close cultural partnerships between universities and the arts sector.

Presented in partnership with the UPP Foundation and HE for Research Professional, headline speakers at the Focus Day include:

  • Eminent resource economist Professor Anil Markandya, one of the core team that drafted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In 2008 he was nominated by Cambridge University as one of the 50 most influential thinkers on sustainability in the world
  • Crossbench peer Lord Kerslake, a former head of the civil service who is the Chair of the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission, which recently published recommendations for Universities on the need to redefine their civic mission to engage proactively with their local communities
  • Professor Alain Beretz of the University of Strasbourg, a Special Envoy of the French Prime Minister with a mission on European universities, and a former Director-General for Research and Innovation at the French Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation. Professor Beretz will provide insights on the shape of future relationships between universities and academics to collaboratively tackle global challenges in a post Brexit landscape · Sue Hartley, Professor of Ecology at the University of York and Director of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI), a pioneering interdisciplinary research partnership generating solutions to global environmental challenges
  • Professor Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York, who worked on the BBC TV programme Blue Planet and was a series scientific adviser to Blue Planet II.
  • Bobby Seagull, University Challenge guru, maths champion and inspirational teacher
  • Tim Leigh, Director of Stage One which has delivered the past six Olympic opening ceremonies (Winter and Summer)
  • Philip Long, Director of V&A Dundee who will discuss the role of culture in driving city regeneration
  • Professor Helen Smith, Head of the Department of English and Related Studies at the University of York, who will outline the need for a more robust defence of the humanities for societal benefit.

The Focus Day is free to attend and open to all and involves panel discussions with significant opportunity for audience interaction. Each session is ticketed separately and all are invited to join the conversation about the future role of higher education.

Joan Concannon, Director of York Festival of Ideas, said: “Universities are the engine rooms of discovery, extending the boundaries of knowledge to tackle complex global challenges.

“Universities are the engine rooms of discovery, extending the boundaries of knowledge to tackle complex global challenges.”

“We are therefore delighted to welcome world-leading experts to York to discuss some of the major issues impacting on our lives and the responsibilities of universities in helping to solve these challenges. The Festival Focus Day is also an opportunity to showcase some of the influential and important research and engagement being driven by the University of York.”

Established and coordinated by the University of York, York Festival of Ideas runs from 4 June to 16 June and will present over 200 mostly free events under the banner of A World of Wonder. The programme features world-class speakers, exhibitions, theatre, music, films, guided walks and family-friendly activities.

Other Festival Focus Days will explore issues including poverty, toleration and how to deliver a fair economy for all. Audiences will also have the chance to learn more about the relationship between creativity and science, the ability of artificial intelligence to improve lives, and how cultural identity in France and Britain is expressed by food, fashion and feminism.

Last year’s York Festival of Ideas attracted an audience of over 40,000 and was the winner of the Outstanding Cultural Festival (Large) at the York Culture Awards. It scooped the award for Best Cultural Event or Festival the previous year.

This year’s Festival begins on 4 June with an evening launch event in partnership with York Minster hosted by distinguished journalist Anne McElvoy. She will introduce Astronomer Royal and bestselling author Martin Rees; award-winning journalist and author Misha Glenny and former Beirut hostage, humanitarian and author Terry Waite.

On the day of the launch, BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme will also be broadcast from the University of York in front of a live audience.

Find out more about York Festival of Ideas and view the full programme at