Dr Tim Bradshaw: The future of our global universities

31 January 2020

As the UK formally leaves the EU after nearly 50 years, the Russell Group’s Chief Executive, Dr Tim Bradshaw, looks to the future:

The UK, and our universities, have always been outward facing and we are determined that this won’t change as we head into the new era that starts today. Indeed, many of the challenges the UK needs to tackle over the next decade, and the opportunities we’ll want to make the most of, will require our universities, businesses, charities and public sector bodies to work even more closely with partners from around the world.

Spurred on by the government’s commitment to invest record amounts in R&D, the UK can enhance its position as a truly global hub for research collaboration and innovation. The UK has notable strengths in climate change and low-carbon research, in AI and machine learning, across the whole spectrum of health research, and in areas as diverse as advanced materials, genetics and behavioural sciences. We are already building on these to transform the economy, while investing in the basic research and talent development needed for the 2030’s and beyond. We can also draw on our strengths in the humanities and arts to understand more about the human condition, the essence of our culture and society and how the UK’s role in the world can evolve.

As the government works for an ambitious future relationship with the EU and pursues stronger international ties with old friends and new partners, our world-leading universities will play a vital role in the success of Global Britain.

But ‘Global’ starts at home. The 24 Russell Group universities are anchor institutions in their local and regional economies – as well as for the nation as a whole. They have helped to drive City Deals, regional health partnerships and major business investments, often securing funding (and jobs) for the UK that could just as easily have gone overseas. Indeed, the latest competitiveness report from the World Economic Forum once again ranks the UK as number one in Europe for university-industry collaboration. [i] We recognise that these efforts are going to become increasingly important as, with Government backing, we work to tackle the challenges facing many of our communities.

Last year’s General Election showed just how vital it is to level-up investment and opportunities across the country. The UK’s regional productivity figures show what needs to change: gross value added per hour worked (GVA/hr) is a third higher in London than the national average, while the Northeast, Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber, Wales and Northern Ireland all have GVA/hr levels ranging between 11% and 17.5% below the national average[ii]. Productivity matters because it links directly to long-term economic growth and real wages. If the UK can close the productivity gaps in its weakest regions, while simultaneously continuing to grow its strongest parts, then that would be transformative for the country as a whole.

People and ideas will be critical to realising this ambition and that is why our universities, with their focus on teaching and research excellence, will be at the heart of this new era. Working with our many partners we can provide the locus for regional development, hubs for innovation and business start-up, and facilities for cutting edge research – at the same time delivering the next generation of skilled graduates and postgraduates the country needs.

And whilst we need to be pragmatic about the up-coming negotiations and our changed circumstances outside of the EU, the future continues to hold plenty of optimism and opportunity. As the Mayor of one of our major trading cities told me a few years ago: our sea ports used to be the gateway to the world for new ideas, international networks, talent and trade, but increasingly that focus has shifted to our leading universities with their national, European and global links. The challenge now is to take this solid foundation, to nurture it, and genuinely value it, as a basis for long-term growth and prosperity.


[i] World Economic Forum, Europe 2020 competitiveness report http://reports.weforum.org/the-europe-2020-competitiveness-report/#section=country-profiles-unitedkingdom


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