Over the last two years, organisations across every sector have grappled with the dual impacts of Brexit and a global pandemic. Here, Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Boyle considers Swansea University’s role in the recovery of our region and nation, and the opportunities for greater collaboration between universities and industry partners in the months and years to come.
Just over a century ago, Swansea University was founded by industry for industry. While our physical footprint has evolved over the course of one hundred years, today we remain true to the ambitions of our founders. We work with industrial, commercial and private sector partners for the benefit of our region and nation, with the principles of innovation and collaboration guiding our strategic vision and purpose.
With access to some of the brightest academic minds in the world, our University has successfully collaborated with thousands of public, private and third sector organisations, applying our world-leading research expertise and global reach to solve the key challenges of today and tomorrow. We are proud to play an active role in supporting regional development within South West Wales, and have supported the growth and economic prosperity of our region through our collaborative work with many local partners.
As we continue to adapt to a new professional landscape, impacted by both Brexit and a global pandemic, we also know that effective, cross-sector collaboration is more critical now than ever before. The past twelve months have demonstrated the incredible agility and resilience of our business community, our partners and our funders. By working together, we have risen to meet the ongoing demands of Covid-19. Together, we have mobilised our knowledge and expertise to develop life-saving ventilators, manufacture hand gels, sanitise ambulances, study physical and wellbeing impacts of the pandemic, diarise COVID-19 experiences and raise funds for those most in need.
The past year has shown us what can be achieved through collaboration, even within the most challenging of circumstances. At Swansea University, we are keen to apply those lessons in support of the recovery and development of our region, our nation and our planet, by harnessing the ambition and sense of urgency which have driven the national response to Covid-19.
I believe that our University has so much to offer our business community, and I hope that you will consider working with us as we seek to support the future economic growth of our region.
A range of expertise
My first academic role was as a young lecturer within the Department of Geography at Swansea University in the 1990s. Back then, I was struck not only by the warmth of the welcome, but also by the breadth and diversity of the University’s research portfolio. Today, Swansea University is ranked as a top-30 research intensive institution within the UK, with a track record for producing world-leading research that delivers major impact in the real world.
We know that the research and innovation sector is vital to our region’s overall economic productivity. It brings significant economic, social and health benefits, underpinning industries and creating jobs and products that enhance our quality of life and enrich our cultural wellbeing. There are also genuine opportunities for our region to take a leading role in the policy priorities highlighted by current Welsh and UK Governments, namely: post-pandemic recovery; building sustainable communities; achieving carbon net zero and nurturing productive and competitive businesses.
By working together across the region, we can mobilise our knowledge and experience to meet the grand challenges of the day, both local and global. With highly trained, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable staff and access to a growing worldwide network of over 500 research partners, our University is well-placed to provide your organisation with opportunities for meaningful collaboration.
From bringing new innovation to life and working with organisations to understand and solve industry challenges, to driving a reduction in our region’s carbon footprint, Swansea University has a wide portfolio of demand-led industry-focused projects that can help and support your organisation to face today’s key challenges.
Along with our significant research expertise, our University is recognised for our high-quality teaching, which helps to nurture the confident, adaptable, and highly-skilled employees of tomorrow. We can provide your organisation with access to a work-ready and talented pool of students and graduates for placement and employment opportunities. We also offer professional training and skills development courses covering a diverse range of disciplines, and delivered by experts in their fields.
As we plan for our post-pandemic future, we want to work with you to make the most of the considerable opportunities available to us, to secure vital future funding for our region.
A gateway to funding
Our strong and longstanding relationships with funders and investors are critical to the inflow of funding to South West Wales. Our University is well-placed to source a wide range of support programmes, incentivisation schemes, and funding for partnership building and R&D and innovation-related activity.
In fact, despite the challenges of 2020/21, I am proud that Swansea University has collaborated with a wide range of partners to secure £62.6m in research and innovation funding awards (cash contribution) in the first eight months of the 20/21 academic year; up from just £38.3m at the same point last year. This funding will support projects that tackle Covid-19, accelerate innovation across the region, address major local and global challenges and drive prosperity within South West Wales.
For organisations based within our region, funding is available at many levels; from a few thousand pounds for entry-level projects, to multi-million-pound grants for projects which address global challenges and produce significant social and economic impact.
There is also a major emerging opportunity to boost innovation across Wales via the Research Wales Innovation Fund, which aims to close Wales’ productivity gap with the rest of UK. This funding provides increased capacity and support for the business community to work directly with us on knowledge exchange projects, industry-led funding applications and workforce development.
Funding is also still in place for the EU-funded Horizon Europe scheme, with the UK continuing to have access to the EU’s €95.5 billion funding programme for research and innovation. I would strongly encourage our business community to capitalise on the opportunities provided by EU-funded projects that are still offering support to organisations across the region.
Finally, although we will no longer have access to the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) that has long-supported regional economic and social development in Wales, the UK Government has announced details of the new Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) which will eventually take its place. A £220 million pilot scheme for the SPF (the UK Community Renewal Fund) is currently open, and – like many organisations across our region – here at Swansea University, we are currently in the process of shaping and submitting our Local Authority bids.
While Swansea University will continue to promote the strength of the R&D sector in Wales at EU, UK and Welsh Government levels, we know that the funding landscape is changing post-Brexit, with new opportunities to attract research, development and innovation support into our region. For funders in the UK, research that is rooted in the needs of the whole region and its citizens is clearly an emerging priority; effective collaboration between universities, the private sector and other local stakeholders is the only way that we can achieve this.
Collaborate with us
There are so many ways in which we can work with your organisation, and we stand ready to share our expertise, our global reach and our talent pool. You can contact our engagement team to discuss the range of support and funding that is currently available to organisations within our region, Wales and beyond. As well as aiming to understand your organisation, and identify key challenges and areas of mutual interest, our engagement team can signpost you to relevant stakeholders, support applications for funding and help open the door to new relationships.
While in-person events remain on hold, our Swansea University LINC business network continues to operate in a virtual capacity. You can also engage with us, and with organisations from across the region, via our LinkedIn group, where we share details of any upcoming webinars, along with the latest on COVID-19 funding and the support that is available.
Regardless of the sector in which we operate, our world has changed dramatically over the course of the past year. At Swansea University, our commitment to supporting new innovations, new jobs, new businesses, and to upskilling workforces for the challenges of tomorrow, remains a priority. I very much look forward to working with our business community over the coming year, as collectively we work to ensure a bright and prosperous post-pandemic future for our region.