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National considerations for the Commission

WBS, The ShardThe vistas over London from Warwick Business School's facilities at 'The Shard' provided an appropriate backdrop for the Commission's 4th November National Policy Symposium. Attended by national and local stakeholders, this event, on the cusp of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR2015), considered how national policies and programmes might support University (UoW) contributions to Coventry, Warwickshire and the Midlands over 2015-20 and beyond.

For the university sector as a whole, the symposium agreed future research impact (REF) exercises should recognise and reward local and regional impact, and encourage 'trans-disciplinary' approaches to tackling societal challenges. This is in the face of speculation that research investment allocations may be reduced, will continue to be (vertically) disciplinary in character, and may increase prioritisation of international activity at the expense of the local.

There was an interesting discussion on how CSR fiscal policies might stimulate financial innovation between university and other parts of the (local) public state. Future approaches to business rates localisation, to capital-revenue funding exchanges, and to the anticipated evolution of a number of grant instruments into loans, need to be positioned as opportunities for increasing local and regional university impact. Universities may be well-placed as future developers of social investment models.

In terms of economic geographies, the symposium hoped, post-CSR, for greater clarity of 'devo end-games', and for incentives to support 'cross-boundary' collaboration (at a number of levels). What roles and functions are likely to be 'in-scope' for what scales of geography and governance? At a very practical level, for instance, current deconstruction of EU structural fund programmes across 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) makes a 'Midlands Engine', or even a West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) integrated programme extremely challenging.

At a national level, notwithstanding its migration ambitions, Government needs to find policy solutions that assist UoW and its local and regional geographies to attract and retain global 'talent'.

Whilst CSR2015 may provide greater clarity of direction of travel to 2020 (at headline levels), delivering optimum local and regional impact requires coherent UoW, local and regional responses.

Proactively building and supporting local and regional leadership team(s); being more explicit in targeting local impact (and outreach) agreed with partners; being much better at telling the story of what UoW is already doing; are three proposed UoW priorities the Commission should discuss further, and elaborate in our final recommendations. These types of recommendations need to be operable in numerous multi-university alliances - from the 'Midlands Innovation' group of Midlands research intensive higher education institutions (HEIs), to the 21 HEIs across the 'Midlands Engine'; from the multiple WMCA HEIs, to the co-anchor roles of UoW and Coventry University (CU) at city and LEP levels.

As one would expect, discussions across the breadth of national policy and local responsibilities, compels consideration of the 'values' of the university, what universities exist for, and how these value systems can be operationalised.

Interestingly, each of the city, sub-regional and national hearings have rejected simplistic trade-offs of global research and teaching excellence on the one hand, with local and regional impact on the other.

The challenge for the Commission, going forward, is to capture this win-win 'world view' in our final report findings, with a set of practical, deliverable, recommendations. The challenge for broader local and regional leadership teams is to continue national-local dialogue post 25 November CSR announcements. We need to ensure that the national policy context can enable and support win-win university - local - regional collaboration.

David Marlow
November 2015