Arc Universities

Last week Professor Karen Holford, Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University, and member of the Arc Universities Group Governing Board, gave a keynote speech as Innovate UK’s inaugural Arc Innovation Festival. Here is an abridged version of her keynote speech, showcasing what Cranfield and the Arc Universities bring to the region and to the UK economy as a whole.

The work of the Oxford-Cambridge region is gaining traction and momentum as the Oxford-Cambridge Pan-regional Partnership, or PRP, with a new private sector board forming. 

Universities have a role as civic anchors who can bring business, government and other organisations to the table to work on areas of shared interest. That’s a clear role in big cities, where universities in Manchester, Nottingham or Cardiff have always been part of  the place where they were founded and are integral to the feel and success of their localities. At a regional level, universities can drive collaboration and provide an anchor and focus to support growth and innovation. 

The Arc Universities Group, nine universities working together to support an aspiration for sustainable regional growth, is a diverse group – from research giants, such as Oxford and Cambridge, to the great skills producers such as Oxford Brookes, Northampton, Bedfordshire, Anglia Ruskin and Buckinghamshire New. The universities have led on several initiatives, investing nearly £1 million over the last four years into sustainable aviation, space exploration and data and life sciences. 

Ours is a region of high productivity and high skills. 11% of the workforce is in knowledge-intensive jobs, with 10% of UK life sciences jobs here. The GVA is 8% above national average. Over 40% of the workforce is degree-educated. No wonder government is interested in developing the region further.  With AI, robotics and digital, jobs and skills are changing. There are two new universities coming through to help address new needs: Peterborough in the east, and MK:U in Milton Keynes.

Navigating the political environment has inevitably been a challenge this year, but despite all the changes at the top, we are still incredibly well placed to support the UK’s wider policy objectives. This includes meeting the demand for a highly skilled workforce through our world-class education, apprenticeships and the application of applied research in areas like energy transition and agrifood to meet ambitious net zero targets. 

The Chancellor’s Autumn statement was welcome. Two things in particular stood out: the confirmation of East West Rail, which is vital to connectivity and economic growth, and a renewed commitment to R&D spending which gives us confidence we will attract more investment. Cranfield hosted Science Minister George Freeman on campus as part of Radio 4’s Any Questions straight after the Autumn statement and as you might expect, the conversation quickly turned to how the UK can truly become a science and technology superpower. The Minister recognised our pivotal role at the heart of this region and at the heart of the conversation. 

However, we will only get there by working together and that is why events such as the Arc Innovation Festival, that bring people together: businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, academic researchers. They create lasting connections and will create lasting impact.

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