Comment: Use the budget to help universities build the UK economy and drive the northern powerhouse

Today's budget is expected to include an announcement around the 'northern powerhouse', including devolution of power to cities and more investment in transport infrastructure. Our Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett FRS says that universities in the north can play an integral role in supporting long-term economic growth.

Use the budget to help universities build the UK economy and drive the northern powerhouse

by Professor Sir Keith Burnett FRS, 18 March 2015

The north is already developing the ideas, skills and determination needed to drive economic growth, and universities can and should play a key role in rebalancing the UK economy. We do more than teach students. We can work with companies to add the knowledge which will drive UK production and exports.

For example, our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing is leading a low-carbon manufacturing revolution that includes a state-of-the-art, reconfigurable factory and specialist research centres in castings, virtual reality, prototyping, engineering design, drilling and composite materials. The AMRC also now provides manufacturing support to the medical technologies as well as the UK Nuclear manufacturing supply chain.

Universities can also help provide the vital advanced skills which are fundamental to companies investing or expanding in a region. Our AMRC Training Centre offers just such vocational education to over 250 technical apprentices each year, working with companies to provide world-class advanced engineering capability which combine a research environment with industry ready skills. This is already making a profound difference to those companies and to the young people involved.

We are also looking at new kinds of collaboration to build the infrastructure the UK needs. Equity markets alone can no longer support the route from innovation to product. It is only institutions, such as universities and government, who can take a longer-term view and invest in the innovation we truly need to grow and thrive. Combined with improved transport infrastructure, this approach will benefit not only the north but the whole of the UK economy.

Professor Burnett is the co-author of a new report into The Future of Vocational Education which recommends new ways for the UK to meld world-class research and development with cutting edge technical education.