Levelling up and the importance of our civic mission

Sir Colin Campbell - VC Blog

I am delighted to open this month’s blog with the news that graduation ceremonies will return to campus this summer. After all the pressures faced by our students over two years of a pandemic, it will be a pleasure for us all to mark their achievements in a series of events in May, July and August.  These will celebrate not only this year’s graduates, but also those from 2020 and 2021 who had their initial celebrations online due to national restrictions.  It will also be the first set of graduations in which our Chancellor, Baroness Lola Young, will be able to preside over some of the ceremonies in person.

Graduations are a vital part of any students’ time with us, as well as for their families and friends and the staff who have taught and supported them through their university careers. Every year colleagues across the institution generously volunteer their time to support the ceremonies, and information on how to volunteer for this unique year of ceremonies will be made available soon.

The return of graduation ceremonies is also another welcome sign for us as a community as we gradually emerge from the pandemic. I am pleased to see and speak with so many colleagues as I walk and work around campus, together with students who are returning to a full in-person teaching and social experience. Of course, we must continue to exercise caution and maintain our health and safety measures on campus, such as ensuring good ventilation in our buildings, alongside our policies to strongly encourage the use of face coverings, full vaccination and weekly testing as a means of keeping our community safe.

Levelling Up’ – where does Nottingham fit?

Beyond the very public travails surrounding the Prime Minister, last week the government finally published its long-awaited ‘Levelling Up White Paper’, which included significant input from our Honorary Professor of Economics, Andy Haldane, who advised on its content. Whatever one’s views on the details of the policy, its funding or the context in which it is published, there is no doubt this is a critical agenda for our country and our region.

There are a number of elements of the White Paper that speak to the civic mission that we have been supporting as a university for many years. Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are among nine areas invited to develop and agree a County Deal. It will be interesting to see, when the details are published in full, to what extent this County Deal is expected to be a conveyor belt towards the sort of Mayoral model that has been transformative for cities like Manchester and Birmingham.  Such changes in local governance have previously relied on the support of universities for economic regeneration, innovation and skills development.

The city and county have also been confirmed as ‘education investment areas’ to receive what the government says is “intensive support, investment and targeted action to raise school standards”. This aligns with the Universities for Nottingham initiatives to support local educational attainment and aspiration especially in deprived areas. Local Skills Improvement Plans will also be rolled out, giving local employer bodies and stakeholders a statutory role in planning skills training in their area, to better meet local labour market needs. The East Midlands Chamber of Commerce took on a trailblazer pilot last year for Leicestershire, in partnership with Loughborough College, and this has been supported by our D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership and its People and Skills Advisory Group, which I currently chair.

The £2.6 billion UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be decentralised to local leaders as far as possible, with investments set to regenerate communities, boost people’s skills, and support local businesses. This fund replaces previous European Structural Funds, which have benefitted our region for many years. We will need to wait and see to what extent this is an evolution of EU funds that did so much good for our locality or a new approach to local economic development.

Most importantly for universities, the Research & Development (R&D) mission will see domestic public R&D investment outside the Greater South East increase by at least 40% by 2030, with a commitment from BEIS to invest at least 55% of their domestic R&D funding outside the region by 2024-25. Other government departments have also undertaken to spread their research funding more widely across the nation. We are considering what this means for us in relation to our revised Research Strategy and our longstanding excellence in innovation, impact and business engagement.

Our civic contribution made through Universities for Nottingham is arguably more advanced and substantial than any other in England, fostering a deep and lasting partnership between our two universities and both city and county stakeholders in the public and private sectors. The value of this initiative will be further cemented this week with the signing of a partnership agreement with the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce. The Castle Meadow campus will also provide a new and central home for our contribution to regenerating our region. We are hosting the first of many staff engagement sessions this week to gather colleagues’ ideas and opinions on the potential for teaching, research, student experience, sustainability and civic engagement on the site. I would urge as many people as possible to engage with the conversations in the coming weeks and months.

Celebrations and congratulations

I am determined over the coming year to ensure that we spend more time than ever celebrating the many successes of our staff and students, and there is much to celebrate across our campuses this month.

February marks LGBT+ History Month, the first of this year’s recognition weeks under the stewardship of our new PVC for Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and People, Professor Katherine Linehan. This year’s theme is ‘unmuting ourselves’, which aims to amplify the voices of our LGBTQ+ community and increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ people, their history, lives, and experiences, promoting their welfare, and increasing inclusion. I do hope to see many of you at the wide range of staff- and student-led events and activities across the month.

The university’s research and business acumen has been celebrated with three award wins for our spin-out companies at last week’s Medilink Midlands Business Awards which recognise outstanding achievements in the life science sector. SurePulse, which provides wireless monitoring for newborn babies, won the award for ‘Partnership between Academia and Business’. Neurotherapeutics, which develops wearable therapeutic devices for those who suffer from Tourette’s syndrome, and Blueskeye AI which builds products to support wellbeing and mental health, wereboth successful in the ‘One to Watch’ category.

Professor Matthew Brookes has been recognised for his revolutionary work in brain imaging, with a Physical Sciences & Engineering Laureate award from the the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences.

The awards are the largest unrestricted prize available to UK scientists aged 42 or younger, and recognised as instrumental in expanding the engagement and recognition of young scientists. This is the first year the University of Nottingham has featured in these awards and Professor Brookes will receive £100,000 prize money in recognition of his work.

Congratulations to Praminda Caleb-Solly, Professor of Embodied Intelligence, and her team who have received the first ever Turing Network Development Award to make Artificial Intelligence accessible and build trust in its use. The award will support AI experts in different application domains from across the university to develop a range of business- and community-focused activities and empower people to be confident in accessing, understanding and exploiting data.

Congratulations also to Kelly Vere Director of Technical Skills and Strategy, who recently received her MBE from HRH the Duke of Cambridge in recognition of the enormous contribution she has made nationally to raising the profile and developing career pathways of technicians, who do so much to support our university research.

 Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West signature

Professor Shearer West

08 February 2022

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