My Week - 2 June 2014 - Big opportunities

Professor John Fisher talks about the importance of developing external opportunities for the University

Professor John Fisher
Big opportunities ahead

The University’s Strategic Plan 2014-2020 discussed in Senate, highlighted by the Vice-Chancellor in his My Week column of 19 May, and open for consultation this week, starts to describe the current and future opportunities open to the University, staff and students. As the plan takes shape, these opportunities – along with others that will subsequently emerge – will be developed into more concrete propositions and proposals for academic development.

During the last week I’ve attended meetings with Universities UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and have also visited Rolls-Royce in Derby. Each of these visits served to reinforced just how important the external environment and landscape is to the University as we define our future opportunities and develop our proposals.

At the Universities UK meeting, I was reminded of the current consultation on capital funding and this summer’s consultation on the next Science and Innovation Strategy, which will be published in the autumn (the last Science and Innovation Strategy was produced some 10 years ago). Later, at the EPSRC we discussed further developments and future investments in data analytics which will support activities across all disciplines and research councils, and also proposals being developed for the funding of international collaborations and development through the Emerging Powers Newton Fund*, which potentially will support higher level skills and training, research, capital and capabilities.

At Rolls-Royce I heard about their University Technology Centres, of which there are now 31 in total, with over 20 in UK. These strategic, collaborative research partnerships with universities have, in some cases, lasted over 20 years. They receive substantial funding from the EPSRC, as well as direct support from Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce view the success of these partnerships in terms of the quality and number of people moving from university partners and the transfer of knowledge and intellectual property (IP) from universities into the company. In my own research field, our strategic partner has exactly the same expectations of our collaborative research programme, which has been operating since 2000.

As we develop our University proposals for academic development we need to be aware of these opportunities in the external landscape, recognising that partners and funders have a choice as to who they work with and where they invest. We need to develop distinctive propositions which will provide benefits to both existing and prospective partners in terms of research, innovation, education and skills. It is very timely now to be developing our strategic plans for 2014-2020, and we must make progress during the next year to set robust plans that define and respond to the opportunities in the external landscape for the next five years.

Professor John Fisher

Deputy Vice-Chancellor

* A new government initiative intended to strengthen research and innovation partnerships between the UK and nations classed as ‘Emerging Powers’. It will deliver £375 million of funding over five years and aims to position the UK as an international partner of choice, paving the way for future collaboration.

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