Professor Brian Cantor: Harnessing power of our universities

Bradford University is hosting the first World Technology Universities Congress this week.
Bradford University is hosting the first World Technology Universities Congress this week.
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THE challenges facing the world are complex. Solutions are required urgently. Ill-health, poverty, climate change, energy and water supply, food security, industrial development, conflict, migration and terrorism: the 21st century’s problems are difficult and threatening to us all.

But as well as threats, there are opportunities: opportunities that technological research and the application of technology can exploit to help deliver solutions. Technology is, broadly, the use of knowledge to improve society, and it is clear that technology universities must play a leading role in meeting our 21st century challenges. This is why I have invited major technology universities around the world to the first World Technology Universities Congress, at the University of Bradford, this week.

Universities, and technology universities in particular, can be amongst the greatest forces for progress. Working together and alongside our business and industry partners, we can perhaps create the greatest community for good in the world. The world student population is approximately 100 million and growing at six per cent per year. The world market for research is on the order of $1.5 trillion, also growing at six per cent per year. There are approaching 40,000 universities worldwide, most created in the last 20 years, most technology universities, and the number growing rapidly. Every city wants the economic drive of a successful university, and everybody wants the advantage of a university education.

Technology universities are playing a direct and critical role as creators of wealth and as motors for economic and social change. Here in Bradford alone we have developed drugs to treat and prevent cancer, we have promoted chemical and biochemical disarmament, and our engineering and healthcare products have saved lives and generated wealth worldwide. Other universities across the world are engaged in similar, inspiring work. Imagine the power of these universities collaborating , deploying their resources, knowledge, teaching and research expertise.

Bradford is well-placed to host this pioneering congress. Our reputation as a base for high-tech, scientific and computer-based industries is growing, building on a long tradition of innovation, high skill-levels and quality products.

Bradford’s fastest-growing sectors include information technology, financial services, digital industries, environmental technologies, cultural industries, advanced healthcare, tourism, and retail headquarters and distribution.

The University of Bradford is one of very few research-intensive technology universities in the UK.

Our vision, in our 50th anniversary year, is to continue to build and grow as a world leader in the creation, dissemination and application of world-changing knowledge.

The World Technology Universities Congress will bring together senior members of a wide range of international technology universities, together with business leaders and representatives of other governmental and non-governmental organisations.

We will be discussing whether and how to set up a continuing World Technology Universities Network, and we will be sharing best practice about collaborative research tackling 21st century problems, how to teach the next generation of world leaders, and how to work most effectively with business and other societal organisations.

What might a World Technology Universities Network mean in practice? Shared ideas on the application of emerging technologies; worldwide student exchanges with all the knowledge and cultural benefits that brings; pump-priming of collaborative research projects; opportunities for capacity-building with developing countries; joint teaching and research programmes; and identifying and accessing a technological capacity and funding streams not open to us now.

By harnessing the combined strength, resource, expertise, experience and knowledge of a network of the world’s great technology universities, we will create a global alliance of the brightest and best, dedicated to making knowledge work for the benefit of society.

It will, of course, take time. These are huge ambitions. But the World Technology Universities Congress will, I believe, mark a significant moment in the development of how universities see their place in the world and will open up a future of immense possibility and capability. It will also be a significant moment in the history and development of Bradford and the wider region.

Professor Brian Cantor CBE is vice-chancellor of the University of Bradford.