Civic engagement - mutual benefits for brighter futures

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From the government’s plan to extend HS2 to East Midlands Parkway and electrify the Midlands main line, to our own acquisition of Castle Meadow Campus, this has been a busy period for capital investment that will support our city and region. It is worth reflecting on the numerous ways in which universities can make a positive contribution to local agendas, adding value by harnessing our expertise and commitment to work in partnership with our local charities, government, health and social care services, schools, businesses and cultural organisations. I would like to use this week’s blog to reflect on these significant contributions as well as my personal commitment to ensuring that we continue to play a major role as an anchor institution in a city and county we are proud of but which nevertheless have many social, economic and educational challenges.

Our city’s two universities - Nottingham and Nottingham Trent - have a proud heritage as institutions devoted to teaching, learning, research and scholarship. They have played their part in our region’s social, economic and industrial life from the beginning. Just as Professor Charles Bulleid turned over the University College’s engineering workshops to support the war effort in 1914, his modern counterparts offered our biomedical facilities to support the national Covid-19 testing effort in 2020. Research that led to our Universities for Nottingham civic agreement demonstrated that every 22 seconds, someone in Nottingham engages with the University of Nottingham or Nottingham Trent University in some way. Together we have created more than £1 billion in economic impact for the region or 15% of the local economy, and we support 25,000 jobs across the county. We support the city’s cultural industries, with our backing for the city’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature, Nottingham Contemporary and the restoration of Nottingham Castle. More than 800 teachers and a thousand of the region’s doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and specialist medical practitioners have trained at Nottingham or Nottingham Trent in the last three years and remain committed to the city they have come to call home. 

We were among the first universities in the country to sign a civic agreement with local partners, and the close working between the two universities is, I would argue, unique in England. Our agreement makes a number of pledges, including: to use innovation to support a sustainable economic recovery; to raise educational aspiration and attainment in some of our most disadvantaged communities; to collaborate for environmental sustainability, supporting the city’s net zero ambitions for 2028; to train and retain a high-calibre healthcare workforce; and to maximise the economic opportunities provided by strong local health, life sciences and MedTech sectors. We have already made progress in each of these areas and continue to work closely together and with local partners to add value to our region.

In addition to this collaborative work, our university now has two additional opportunities to make a major contribution to Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. The former HMRC building at Castle Meadow will become our fourth UK campus in the city. Opening in 2024, the Castle Meadow campus is an expression of confidence in the future of both the university and the city. It will enable us to accelerate existing plans to improve teaching and research space for staff, deliver our civic mission with our partners - and make dedicated provision for professional practice-based courses. It will enhance opportunities for collaboration with local business, industry and small businesses and make it easier to develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our partners. It will create a practice-based, professional campus with co-located employers and businesses, creating an ecosystem of employers and students to work and learn together. This will build on our university’s longstanding strengths in innovation, business engagement and graduate employability. All of these ambitions can now be realised in an environmentally sustainable way, more quickly and at a lower cost than was originally planned before the Castle Meadow site became available. 

One of the site’s first occupants will be our new Digital Nottingham initiative. Launched in July, Digital Nottingham is our vision to support economic activity, attract investment and boost skills in the city, using expertise in research to help solve local challenges and create opportunities for growth and regeneration. Combining ground-breaking work by academics in all Faculties in the fields of data science, technology and innovation, the programme will build on our already strong collaborations with local stakeholders in skills and business. It will provide an innovation hub - creating a research and knowledge exchange programme in Artificial Intelligence, data science and FinTech in partnership with industry - that will deliver lasting benefit for the city’s economy. We have already signed off our first partnerships with KPMG and Blenheim Chalcot and look forward to many more. 

I am confident that programmes like Universities for Nottingham, Castle Meadow and Digital Nottingham will help to deliver a bright, confident future for our historic city and county. Another area where our innovation is supporting the region whilst tackling the greatest challenge that faces our planet today lies in leading the development of zero carbon aviation to help tackle climate change.

The UK was the first major aviation sector in the world to commit to net zero CO₂ by 2050, yet commercial aircraft in the sky are predicted to double in the next 20 years, with emissions soaring in their wake. To deliver net zero aviation will take concerted and coordinated action, taking in clean aircraft technologies and propulsion systems, sustainable aviation fuels, advances in materials, manufacturing and aircraft maintenance and more efficient airspace and airport operations.

In our Institute for Aerospace Technology alone, we bring together more than 350 scientists and engineers, creating, testing and demonstrating novel technologies in sector-leading facilities. By March 2024, we estimate that £140 million worth of industrial work will align with our aerospace propulsion facility, strengthening the world’s largest regional aviation supply-chain cluster and associated high-skilled jobs. With the support of our partners including Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Leonardo, our ambition is to make the East Midlands the world’s foremost location for low-carbon aerospace innovation.

Truly impactful civic engagement is mutually beneficial and is only made possible by the civic partnerships that have been, and will continue to be, forged between the city’s two universities, our academic colleagues and the people, businesses and industry across the city and region. These partnerships have supported us through a time of great national challenge when faced with a global pandemic. And they will support us in building a strong economic, social, cultural and educational recovery for the future. 

More than a century ago, the forerunners of our universities and their partners innovated and collaborated to overcome the challenges they faced in an increasingly divided world, tested by existential threats and emerging from a pandemic. A century later, our world faces similar challenges of division, pandemic and existential threat from climate change. But together with our partners, I am confident that our civic focus can contribute to a future which is mutually beneficial for our university community and the city and region of which we are an intrinsic part. 

Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West signature

Professor Shearer West

22 November 2021

University of Nottingham

University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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