Arc Universities

At the inaugural Oxford to Cambridge pan-Regional Partnership conference, the Arc Universities Group hosed a workshop on The Power of Universities: Driving Green Innovation and Skills for a Sustainable Future.

Professor Alistair Fitt introduced the the workshop, sharing how universities help to propel green innovation and cultivating skills for a sustainable future. He emphasised the universities’ role as anchor institutions contributing not only to growth but also nurturing students for impactful contributions to society.

We already possess, in this region, a significant portion of the UK’s capability:

  • Sales in the UK’s low carbon and environmental goods and services sector were £206 billion alone in 2021.
  • 75,700 businesses in this sector, employing 1.2 million people.
  • The International Labour Organisation estimates that 100 million new green jobs can be created by 2030, leading to a net job creation of 25 million jobs.  
  • The United Nations Environment Programme remind us that by 2050, over 50% of the global population will be under 30, and that most lack the green skills to function in a climate-challenged world.  

For the panel discussion, Professor Simon Pollard OBE, Chair of the AUG’s Environmental Partnership Board, set the tone by posing essential questions: 

  • How can the region leverage its world-class capabilities to boost green innovation and skills?
  • How can efforts be accelerated to position the area as a beacon of a green economy?

The panel featured Dr. Winifred Soribe, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Bedfordshire and member of the Arc Universities Student Panel. She voiced the concerns and aspirations of the student community. The students, while hopeful for the future, expressed a deep concern about the slow pace of environmental change. Dr. Soribe emphasised the urgent need to embed and accelerate actions for a greener future.

In a pre-recorded interview, Professor Simon engaged with Dr. Debra Rowe, President of the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. Dr. Rowe stressed that the time for procrastination is over, and urgent action is needed to stabilise the environment. She advocated for embedding sustainability in all institutions and leveraging the collective skills of social sciences and humanities to drive change.

To structure the approach, Dr. Rowe proposed focusing on the 4 Ps: Probabilities, Possibilities, Preferred Future, and Preparation. This strategic framework aims to consider consequences, explore potential solutions, define the desired future, and transition from current systems through collaborative workgroups.

The discussion then turned to the panelists, where Professor Aled Jones from Anglia Ruskin University highlighted the need for a societal transformation, addressing global challenges alongside local ones. He stressed the importance of inclusive and sustainable technology deployment, community engagement, and co-production to create a regional vision that reflects community needs.

Dr. Andy Gilchrist from the University of Oxford emphasised the importance of a holistic approach to the transition to a carbon-free world. He discussed the role of Oxford’s TESA in fostering collaboration between academia and industry across all energy sectors. Dr. Gilchrist underscored the need to involve real people in the transformation, not just rely on technological solutions.

Dr. Winifred Soribe returned to share insights on changing curricula, emphasising the importance of climate change and sustainability education. She highlighted the need for business owners to prioritise sustainability for long-term success.

The event also featured industry perspectives, with Zoe Metcalfe of AtkinsRealis presenting challenges faced by businesses in the region, such as rising costs, government mistrust, and inequality. She showcased successful examples, like the North East Cotswolds farming cluster, and called for the development of digital twins or a simpler digital thin concept to capture the essence of these green and blue ribbons to develop Connected Thriving Places.

Cllr Bridget Smith, Leader of South Cambs District Council, closed the discussion by highlighting the crucial role of universities as trusted sources of information. She emphasised the need for real-world input to bridge the skills gap and propel the region towards a sustainable future.

In conclusion, the event emphasised the potential of the Oxford to Cambridge region to become pioneers in addressing global environmental challenges by fostering collaboration, inclusivity, and sustainability across academia, industry, and communities.

This event highlighted the importance of ongoing collaboration, community engagement, and co-production to ensure that the region’s universities continue to lead in green innovation and sustainable practices. The voices of students, industry representatives, and local communities will be equally important in shaping the region’s future initiatives for a sustainable and thriving environment.


Q – How are Universities work with FE colleges? Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, Chair of Cambridgeshire Skills 

Aled Jones – We are working with FE colleges but in truth, we should be doing a lot more. The education sector changing rapidly, with apprenticeship degrees transforming education. Jobs today are very different from what will be needed in 10-20 years – the question is how do we train for the unknown?

Q – How do we create continuity in funding, learn from history, and integrate policy and real world action? David Arkell, ARU 

Zoe Metcalfe – These are challenges faced in real world too. We need to look at what role business is playing in getting long term sustainable investment. For example Plymouth City Council is using an innovative financial model known as a Habitat Bank. This will ensure that the biodiversity net gain required by law for large developments will not only benefit residents, but will also ensure that natural habitats are looked after and maintained for many years to come. Pensions and insurance market could be part of solution.

Q – What processes can the PRP adopt to get a smooth pathway from R&D to implementation? Stuart Turner

Zoe Metcalfe – Looking again at the North East Cotswolds Farming Cluster, this is a great example of how businesses can play their role. The key is to animate, activate and then duplicate these great solutions again and again. We also need to consider what to do first and align with the key stress points – which I see as the climate emergency and social mobility.

Andy Gilchrist – It isn’t a simple, smooth path. We need to learn from our mistakes and look across the whole region. From rich to poor, rural to city, we have to work together. 

Q – Reflecting on the great video of the AUG Student Panel, how do we capture that and embed it in PRP now? Nigel Tipple, CEO, OxLep

Aled Jones – We need the voice of the students on board. They bring passion, drive, vision, and alternative views to the table

Winifred Soribe echoed this and expressed a desire top continue to the work of the Student Panel.

Q – Communities want agency and advocacy. Are we doing enough and what more can we do? Jayne Manley, CEO, Earth Trust 

Bridget Smith – We are not doing enough and must do more to include harder to reach groups, and particularly young people across the region.  

Zoe – I worked on a Youth Summit project in West Country which is helping to shape policies. But we also must remember that we need the view of the older population as well. 

Winifred Soribe –  There is always room for more engagement. Universities in particular have the infrastructure and intellectual ability to make things happen.

Andy Gilchrist – We need to develop systems approaches that brings the research into the real world .

Aled – We must look beyond community engagement. Co-production right at beginning will mean that all voices will shape what happens. 

Find out more about the Oxford to Cambridge Partnership 

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