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Building our relationship with the Region

Originally published 7 May 2003

Professor Robert Lindley of the Institute for Employment Research, examines the development of the University’s regional strategy.

The higher education White Paper emphasised the regional dimension in the development of future policy. It remains to be seen how this will work out. However, it does coincide with growing momentum in the regional devolution process at a time, somewhat ironically, when the consequences of government research policy have been to invest more strongly in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of Cambridge-London-Oxford.

So, it is timely to look at the University’s relationship with the region, its economic development base, its political institutions, and communities.

What is Warwick’s regional strategy?

Warwick’s mission statement and corporate plan frame the regional strategy in the ‘greater midlands area’, with a particular focus on Coventry and Warwickshire:

  • strengthening the capacities of the regional workforce through the provision of high quality education, training and continuing professional development
  • creating high quality jobs through growth of the most skill-intensive areas of the University’s own activities as an employer and through its stimulus to innovation and business expansion in the region via the Warwick Science Park, Warwick Ventures and other initiatives
  • enhancing the quality of life through promoting cultural activities, educational programmes, access to sports and other campus facilities, and student voluntary work in local communities

Warwick, however, is just one of 11 higher education institutions (HEIs) in the region, whose collective efforts are all needed in order to help to retain highly qualified people in the region; those from Warwick and those from elsewhere.

Our regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, seeks to inject more dynamism into the economy and transform the region’s skills base. Sometimes, the impact of university efforts to support this agenda can be magnified through collaboration rather than competition among the HEIs. ‘Partnership’ has become an increasingly familiar model, in which one or two midlands institutions take the leading role, for example, the Mercia Institute, Medici, and the Enterprise Fellowship Scheme.

Regional strategy and mission

This activity would seem to be self-evidently worthwhile, as is the idea of doing more of it but how does it relate to the overall mission of the University? One perspective is that the best thing the University can do for the West Midlands is to be internationally outstanding at what it does.

Another view is that the pursuit of international excellence may be fostered by deeper engagement with organisations in the region. This is especially so in those areas of science, engineering, health and social science which require the building up of relationships between universities and enterprises or communities. So the need to obtain access to the right people in the organisation, develop trust, marshal existing resources and bid for new funding can point in the direction of looking for collaborators locally in order to develop innovative high quality work that will establish or sustain international reputations.

Partnerships, networks and professional development

The importance of the transformation of universities from exclusive producers of knowledge and educators of the highly qualified, to partners in complex networks which go beyond the pedagogical and scientific boundaries of their traditional roles cannot be over-estimated. Already some areas of Warwick seem to exemplify that move from the ‘linear’ model of science’s relationship with the economy to the ‘new’ model.

Universities have an opportunity to become major animators and participants in networks of practice as well as networks of knowledge production and dissemination. High level CPD programmes rivalling in quality of delivery and attainment elements of the best conventional post-graduate courses will only be sustainable if there is within the body of University staff, a strong contingent of those who are experienced in professional practice as well as having the necessary academic track records. It is also here where creating strong regional and local collaborations and networks reinforces the strategy for establishing a committed alumni body.

A game that more can play?

For social scientists, especially, the opportunities to make serious contributions to policy thinking in the region have quite recently been enhanced by there gradually coming into being a regional policy community around the Regional Assembly and Advantage West Midlands. It is early days yet but this has the potential to present to social scientists a more coherent framework within which to influence policy.

This is a challenge nearer to home that Warwick could meet. It is both likely to deepen our national and European work and make us better-informed to engage with the Coventry and Warwickshire local authorities and such bodies as the CSW Partnership. Regional and sub-regional economic development strategies then become not only strategies that the University helps to implement but also strategies that the University plays its part in helping to create, in the light of the best social science evidence.

The University is not alone in the region in having international horizons and commitments to excellence. We need to see ourselves as being among a wider group of leading organisations, whether large or small, in high-tech production industries through to health and social care, in the private, public or voluntary sectors, wanting themselves and the region to succeed and knowing enough about each other to recognise when this might best be done together. And this is all without producing the other reason for engaging more fully with the region where we live, learn and work… for its own sake.

Local schoolchildren enjoy Arts Centre music event

Pictured above (L-R): Alan Rivett (Director of Warwick Arts Centre), Peter Knatchbull-Hugessen (Alan Edward Higgs Charity) and Robert Browett (Peugeot) with children from Alderman Farm Primary School in Coventry.

The children have taken part in a music-making project at the Arts Centre, supported by Peugeot and further enhanced by an Arts & Business New Partners Award.

Future articles in CommUnicate will cover activities in the region from all the Faculties.