How Yorkshire’s universities will help region recover – Shirley Congdon

IF the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we need to change the way we do business. As with any major upheaval, there have been winners and losers.

Professor Shirley Congdon is vice chancellor of the University of Bradford.

As with the banking crisis of 2008, the pandemic has shown no mercy to businesses that relied on pre-existing norms. As news headlines have shown, this scourge has not just affected small and medium-sized businesses. Even some of the mightiest have succumbed to the crisis.

And yet there is a reason to be optimistic. A year since the first lockdown began, and as the vaccine rollout continues apace, Yorkshire’s universities are reaching out to local SMEs, with a collective offer to work much closer together to help regrow, rebrand and become more resilient.

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The inaugural West Yorkshire Innovation Festival, organised by Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, has presented a timely opportunity this week for universities in Yorkshire to demonstrate how collaboration – between each other and with industry – underpins the path to stronger and more effective enterprise and prosperity.

Universities can play a key role in the region's recovery, says Professor Shirley Congdon.

Our aim is a simple one. We want to illustrate how businesses and universities can find common ground for collaboration and innovation. We want to signpost ways through the pandemic and other major challenges by future-proofing your current processes, products and services and by taking opportunities to create new ones.

Our message is clear. Yorkshire’s universities are here to support you. We stand ready to help rebuild our region’s pioneering and productive economy, to tackle inequalities, and to help businesses navigate the post-Covid landscape through innovation, the resilience which comes from diversity and to seek out new markets.

As the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford and the Chair of Yorkshire Universities – the collaborative voice for Yorkshire’s 12 Higher Education Institutions – I know full well that our universities are a reservoir of knowledge and talent.

Only last week, my own university hosted Leeds West Labour MP and Shadow Cabinet Minister Rachel Reeves, who invoked the words of the late Harold Wilson, whose seminal speech in 1963 called for the ‘white heat of technology’ to transform the country. Almost 60 years on and that sentiment could not be more apt.

Covid has swept the business landscape like an apocryphal flood, decimating vast swathes of industry and forcing others to flee to higher ground. And yet, in spite of this unprecedented shock, many have survived while others have thrived.

We may ask why. One reason is it was those who innovated, who were nimble enough to change tack when the storm struck and the waters rose. Another is some were better prepared than others.

It is apt that we move into the season of spring – symbolically associated with renewal and hope – we also now contemplate a new dawn for the economy. As the flood waters recede and people begin to pick up the pieces, Yorkshire’s universities are ready to offer what help they can. Indeed, isn’t this precisely why they exist?

Our raison d’etre is to use our research to support business innovation, to educate and train the future workforce, to inspire individuals to go out and challenge norms, to excel, to exceed expectations, to not just survive but thrive and to do so by being able to adapt in a changing world.

So, my message to all businesses is this: we want you to identify at least one of our local universities to contact tomorrow, and to take that next step with confidence.

Universities place a great emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion to tackle disproportionate disadvantage. That focus on equality, diversity and inclusion helps organisations be more creative and innovation.

In rebuilding our economy, consider how your company can grow its customer base by including more disadvantaged communities, how you can capture new perspectives and improve your decisions 
through a more diverse workforce and how you can put your company in a much stronger position to weather any future storm.

The world has changed. We need to change with it. Those who do will help remould the business landscape, create new jobs and prosperity and as you continue on this journey, Yorkshire’s universities will be by your side.

Professor Shirley Congdon is Vice Chancellor of the University of Bradford.

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