How universities like York can drive levelling up – Charlie Jeffery
This imbalance has been at the expense of areas like Yorkshire being able to use that spending to help “level up” – which has been a long-term missed opportunity given the number of world-leading research centres we have here.
In turn, that has meant highly skilled jobs and access to talent has been limited in our region for too long.
Those differences between regions and the fragility of certain sectors have been decades in the making, though.
That is why the ongoing debate about levelling up, now the long-awaited White Paper is in the public domain, has amplified the need for us to accelerate new ways of working across sectors to harness different areas of expertise if we are to tackle those profound challenges, and improve the lives of people in Yorkshire.
University-driven R&D offers an exciting route to achieving the Government’s key objectives: we are well placed to help deliver Net Zero and economic redistribution in tandem.
And it is why projects like BioYorkshire – an innovative public-private partnership that will sit at the heart of North Yorkshire’s drive towards environmental sustainability – will also help bring the UK’s bioeconomy directly to the region.
In the case of BioYorkshire, that means 4,000 high quality and exciting jobs will be created right here in Yorkshire from agronomists, food technologists and chemists to natural capital economists and robotic and digital experts.
BioYorkshire will act as a centre of gravity for the north of England, and become a beacon for the UK to attract inward investment in new, productive, bio-based businesses.
Independent economic assessment estimates BioYorkshire will generate £1.4bn in GVA, reduce carbon emissions by 2.8 million tonnes per year across the UK and reduce UK waste to landfill by 1.2 million tonnes per year.
Using the White Paper as a springboard, our goal should now be about delivering a step change to shift our economy into a higher productivity mode with an accelerated commitment to levelling up across disadvantaged groups and places.
Let’s ask ourselves what are the lessons we can take from how public and private enterprises successfully worked together on major initiatives like vaccine development.
If we can collaborate differently and effectively in a crisis, imagine what we could achieve by collaborating to drive innovation and change.
It is clear that universities and colleges can and should be pivotal in this repositioning – with Yorkshire home to some of the leading education institutions in the UK. We must harness their R&D capabilities and the talents of their graduates to drive economic innovation, but also use their convening power to mobilise powerful partnerships for economic renewal.
This means engaging businesses large and small to collaborate in R&D and to start, accelerate and scale up new companies; working with schools and employers to nurture the talent the labour force needs across all skill levels, and building support and ambition among local authorities, LEPs and national government to secure public funding to speed renewal.
We all now accept and understand the urgency and scale of the challenge to improve our environment – while simultaneously finding innovative ways to level up our region.
Our focus should be on delivering the right partnerships with the right capabilities and vision to build on our country’s unique strengths in research, industry and farming to create a global, bio-innovation powerhouse that will not only level up the economy but become an exemplar region for tackling climate change.
Through projects such as BioYorkshire, we are confident that the UK can kickstart a new era of regional growth and set us on course for a greener, cleaner future.
Professor Charlie Jeffery is vice chancellor of the University of York.
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