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Evaluating the impact of careers-related learning in North East primary schools

Matt Joyce, Regional Lead: North East Ambition at the North East LEP, has been involved in piloting a new approach to careers-related learning in primary schools for the last two years. He explains what, for him, have been the most important outcomes of the project.

We’ve just finished evaluating the two-year North East Ambition Career Benchmarks: Primary Pilot which involved 70 primary schools in our region. Schools were supported to embed careers-related learning throughout the curriculum and for children of all ages, from early years through to key stages one and two, using a framework based on the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, which have already been proven to have positive outcomes in secondary schools and colleges. 

The reason we did this is because research has shown that, by the age of four, children start to have ideas about what they might do in their futures. By five and six, children are beginning to narrow their choices based on their gender, and by ten many young people have already made career limiting decisions, which are fixed by age 14.

By giving younger children the opportunity to engage with employers and further and higher education providers, and learn about the range of opportunities open to them, we want to raise their aspirations, broaden their horizons and help them see the link between what they learn in school and the real world.

What impressed me most during the project was how readily the 70 schools embraced this new approach, with massive buy-in from Careers Leaders, senior leaders, other staff and governors. They’ve demonstrated that there’s an appetite for this to happen within primary schools and that staff can see the benefits for pupils.

This has been a hugely positive experience for all the schools involved, with large increases year-on-year for the number of the Benchmarks each school has achieved. And, for me, one really important finding that came out of the evaluation is that a school’s progress within the pilot isn’t linked to their Ofsted rating.

We also saw the careers-related learning is no longer a bolt-on activity for these schools, it’s become embedded throughout the curriculum, like a golden thread running throughout the school. So children in early years, as well as those higher up the school, are benefiting.

Now the pilot has ended we’re working with multi-academy trusts, secondary school clusters and other individual schools to scale up this work and further embed a sustainable and replicable approach to the implementation of the benchmarks.

We’ll carry on expanding this approach in the North East but it would be good to see it being adopted nationally as well. I want the North East to show that this can be done and that it’s worth doing.

We’re now opening up the programme to any primary school in the North East LEP area that wants to take part, so get in touch to find out more. It’s not about making a colossal shift in the way your school is run, it’s more subtle than that – for example, thinking about how children can see the curriculum through a careers-related lens. This can enable pupils to understand how their learning links to the real world and develop the skills required, as well as allow us to tackle important issues such as gender stereotyping.

Ultimately, this is about inspiring children and making a positive difference to their futures. It can be done, and it’s worth doing, so I hope more primary schools take this chance to work with us to adopt, implement and achieve the Good Career Guidance Primary Benchmarks.

Read the North East Ambition Career Benchmarks: Primary Pilot evaluation report. To get involved in the project, email [email protected].  

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Project to improve careers guidance in North East primary schools extended after positive impact on pupils

A pilot project to test a new approach to careers guidance in North East primary schools is being extended, after it was shown to have improved children’s understanding of the range of future possibilities open to them, and enhanced teachers’ careers-related knowledge and skills.

The North East Ambition Career Benchmarks: Primary Pilot took place over two years and involved 70 primary schools in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area. It will now be made available to all primary schools in the area.

Matt Joyce, Regional Lead: North East Ambition at the North East LEP, explained: “Evidence shows that children begin to form ideas about their futures when they’re as young as five or six. By the age of 10, many young people have already made career-limiting decisions, which are fixed by the time they’re 14.

“We wanted to help primary schools to embed a new approach to careers guidance for younger children which has been shown to broaden young people’s horizons, help them to see the link between what they learn in the classroom and their future careers, and improve their outcomes.”

An independent evaluation found that primary school Careers Leaders who took part in the pilot project reported significant improvements in their own knowledge, skills and understanding as well as their pupils:

  • 87% of Careers Leaders now rate their ability to design and deliver career-related learning across all year groups as good or very good (compared with 12% at the start of the project)
  • 83% of Careers Leaders now rate their ability to monitor and demonstrate the impact of careers-related learning activities as good or very good (up from 6% at the start of the project)
  • 93% of Careers Leaders say pupils believe they can achieve their career goals if they work hard (compared with 63% at the start of the project)
  • 87% of Careers Leaders believe pupils understand the link between skills they develop in school and their future career options (compared with 34% at the start of the project)

The two-year pilot project, which was delivered by the North East LEP with support from independent charity EY Foundation, supported 70 primary schools to adapt the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks for primary-aged pupils and embed them throughout the school. The benchmarks place employer engagement at the heart of careers education and require that careers guidance is linked to the curriculum and is tailored to meet the needs of all pupils.

Jodie McNally, EY Foundation Head of Programmes and Regions said: “I’m delighted to see the positive impact that bringing careers aspiration and inspiration to a younger age can have. Having demonstrated the potential of this concept, it should be replicated across the country to bring together employers and the labour force of the future at a much earlier age.”

Donna Scott, Careers Leader, Barnes Junior School, said: “It has been an extremely worthwhile pilot to be part of and the Benchmarks will continue to enhance the provision in school. Our children are interested in the connection between what they are learning and real life, and it make sense to link today’s learning to future aspirations – to help nurture and develop our pupils’ confidence to chase their dreams.”

Following the success of the pilot, the North East LEP will now scale up this work and further embed a sustainable and replicable approach to the implementation of the Good Career Guidance Primary Benchmarks across the region and beyond. Read more about the results of the pilot project at www.northeastambition.co.uk and read the evaluation report here.

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North East work on skills development recognised in House of Lords youth unemployment report

As the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee publishes its Skills for every young person report, Ellen Thinnesen, Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Skills Advisory Panel comments on the recommendations.

The North East Skills Advisory Panel and the North East LEP’s Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, have been involved in putting forward evidence and recommendations for this report and we’re pleased to see today that our recommendations have been included.

We particularly welcome that the report recognises careers education, information, advice and guidance as a critical component of young people’s education and that it should be introduced at primary school level, using the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks as a framework. Here in the North East, we’ve recently completed a successful two-year pilot project to translate and test an adapted set of benchmarks as a framework for primary schools. The results, which will be published next week, show a significant, positive impact on both pupils and teachers and we’re now scaling up the programme in the North East LEP area beyond the initial 70 primary schools involved.

We also welcome the recognition that effective engagement between businesses and education providers supports young people’s progression into the workplace. This is a key focus of the North East LEP’s North East Ambition programme and our work with schools, colleges and employers throughout our region, whilst acknowledging every area is different and requires specific intervention.

The recognition of the importance of engaging school governors in supporting schools to embed careers guidance throughout the curriculum also reflects our own experience, and we were the first LEP in the country to sign the School Governor Champion Charter.

A particular strength of the North East LEP is that we’re well placed to help create strong partnerships between the education and business communities. This has helped us to focus on skills development for young people that reflects the skills priorities of industry, making sure that schools and colleges are setting young people up for a successful future. To implement this in the North East, we’ve supported employers to co-design and deliver the T-Level curriculum and we’ve commissioned research into skills gaps in industry so we can ensure young people are being equipped with the skills they’ll need in their future careers.

The recommendation of a Career Guidance Guarantee to ensure that every disadvantaged young person has access to tailored, one-to-one careers guidance is also welcome and reflects what we learnt through our two-year Opportunity North East pilot, which has highlighted the impact of more intensive career guidance and the importance of robust data to inform careers guidance and education.

And finally, recommendations from our apprenticeship group around policy changes and the removal of barriers, which we hope will enable more employers and young people to benefit from on-the-job training, also feature in today’s report that you can read here.

Find out more about the work of the North East LEP on this agenda here.

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New report shows impact of COVID-19 on Good Work Agenda in the North East

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Durham University Business School have published a new report looking at how COVID-19, and the introduction of widespread flexible working, has contributed to the Good Work Agenda in the North East.

Researched and written during the coronavirus pandemic, it provides a unique insight into how changing working patterns accelerated employers’ ability to ensure better working practices for their employees, providing better quality and more meaningful work.

The new research supports existing Good Work pledges, charters and toolkits published by organisations including the North of Tyne Combined Authority, Northern Trades Union Congress, and North East England Chamber of Commerce.

Drawing on more than 20 qualitative interviews carried out between January and April 2021, the report includes a set of recommendations to support other businesses in the North East to implement and carry out better working practices for their employees.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The unique thing about this research is that it was developed in real time during the pandemic, which was a period of huge change for businesses.

“Almost all organisations were compelled to introduce some form of flexible working, which introduced its own set of challenges for employers and employees. How do you provide a supportive and rewarding working environment when your staff are instructed to work from home by government?”

“What we’ve found is that lots of businesses in the North East have been installing the principles of Good Work as a result of the pandemic. The introduction of remote and hybrid working has helped employers focus on important employee issues, such as work/life balance, flexible working, health and wellbeing, and communication.”

Organisations including AkzoNobel, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Irwin Mitchell LLP and Quorum Business Park took part in the research. Employers discussed how the experience of adapting during the pandemic has introduced better working practices for employees, particularly around areas like flexible working, encouraging a healthy work/life balance, and what the future of work will look like post-pandemic.

Contributors described good work as being more than just having a good job; it was about delivering justice, fairness, transparency, opportunity, balance, enjoyment, and support.

A spokesperson from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “Although we were quite flexible before COVID-19, we have been really flexible during it, and I think it will be about maintaining that and looking at different ways to support people within the various things that they go through in life.”

A spokesperson from AkzoNobel said: “Obviously when you introduce a policy like flexible working, people immediately think it is just for mothers who have children, to allow them to do drop offs. We very much promoted it in that it is not, if you have got a hobby on a Friday afternoon that you want to go and do, we want to encourage you to go and do it.”

The Good Work Agenda and flexible working report was conducted and written by Dr. Cat Spellman, Prof. Jo McBride from Durham University Business School, and Dr. Andrew Smith from Sheffield University Management School, in collaboration with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. It was funded by a Durham ESRC IAA grant awarded by national research body, UK Research and Innovation.

Professor Jo McBride, Chair in Work and Employment Relations at Durham University Business School, said: “COVID-19 restrictions forced a rapid extension of a more flexible way of working. For many organisations this contributed to a reflection and reassessment of the future of work in their workplaces. It also led to the realisation for some of the significant value of a workforce.

“At a time when organisations are faced with an opportunity to proactively change the way they work and improve their employment relationship, this is also a perfect opportunity to link into and develop the Good Work Agenda.”

Michelle Rainbow from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership added: “I think the timing of the publication of this research is important because many organisations are considering what the future looks like in terms of how and where their employees work.

“The insight we have gathered will, I hope, give businesses confidence in knowing they’re not alone in tackling these issues. The conclusions and recommendations in the report are focused on centering policies around employees’ needs, welfare and wellbeing; and that is at the core of the Good Work Agenda.”

The impact of COVID-19 on the Good Work Agenda and flexible working is available to read on the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Evidence Hub via evidencehub.northeastlep.co.uk.

For more information about the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, visit www.northeastlep.co.uk.

For more information about Durham University Business School, visit www.dur.ac.uk/business.

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What does the North East need from the new Secretary of State for Education?

As the new Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, settles in to his role, Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), lays out what she would like to see from the government to help raise the level of skills in the North East.

The North East LEP works to help people of all ages – from primary pupils to older members of the workforce – improve their skills and achieve their potential.

As the government continues to push forward its Levelling Up agenda, skills must play a central role in building a stronger, more sustainable economy in our region, as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The North East LEP is in regular dialogue with government to make sure the region receives the support it needs. In particular, I want to highlight good quality careers guidance for all ages, technical education and apprenticeships, lifelong learning, and support for people facing digital exclusion, as areas of the utmost importance as we work to level up our region.

The effect that COVID-19 has had on the labour market, and changes brought by flexible contracts, the emerging green economy and the increasing need for digital skills, means that careers guidance is more vital than ever. It’s key to social mobility, and it helps children and young people to broaden their horizons, achieve their ambitions, and see a clear pathway to their future careers.

In 2017, the government announced that the Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks, which were originally piloted in 16 schools and colleges here in the North East, would form the core of its Careers Strategy. The benchmarks emphasise the importance of young people having ‘real life’ experience of the world of work – that is, contact with employers on an ongoing basis through things like work experience, careers fairs and project-based learning – and making sure that we take a whole-school approach, embedding careers guidance throughout the curriculum.

The work we’ve done with schools and colleges, including a current pilot project looking at how the benchmarks can be adapted for younger children, has shown that the impact of the benchmarks on outcomes for young people can be hugely positive.

Of course, careers guidance is not a short term thing, and I would urge government to give time for the approach to bed in, and allow us to capture the difference it’s making to young people’s lives.

We’d also like to see the statutory requirement for careers guidance extended to include children at primary level. There’s evidence to show that children as young as five start to form perceptions about careers that will impact them later in life, so we need to make sure that each and every child is given the opportunity to learn about the options open to them from a young age.

While primary school outcomes in the North East are the joint highest of any region outside London, too few children make strong progress at secondary school. Our Opportunity North East programme aims to address this and, as with all our work, uses data and evidence to address the challenges we face.

This evidence-based approach complements the government’s Careers Strategy and we’d like to see data made more readily available to those who could benefit from it the most, including people who are less digitally-aware.

We recognise the value of technical education in levelling up our region, and support the delivery of apprenticeships and T-Levels, promoting them as a high quality route to successful careers.

Additional incentive payments to businesses hiring apprentices ended at the end of September and we’d like to see these reintroduced, and the minimum wage for apprentices aligned with that for 16 to 18 year olds.

For people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, we welcomed the introduction of the Midlife MOT, which helps people plan for their futures and get the most from their careers, by taking stock of their skills, health and money using a simple online assessment. 

We will continue to work with schools, employers and training providers to upskill the North East, and we will continue to champion our region on a national stage, to help people fulfil their potential and bring more and better jobs to our region.

Find out more about the North East LEP’s work with schools and employers.

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New reports on North East economy reveal impact of COVID-19 and EU Exit

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has published two new reports, one, an annual state of the region report and the other exploring the impact of COVID-19 and EU Exit on the North East economy.

The LEP’s annual Our Economy report has been published in two parts in 2021. The first report tracks the long term performance of the North East LEP economy across a range of key economic indicators and provides an overview of how it is changing over time.

It also includes an update on progress towards the North East LEP’s aim of bringing 100,000 more and better jobs to the region by 2024, and analysis of the impact of emerging policy priorities, like levelling up and decarbonisation, on the North East.

The second report provides a comprehensive and in-depth look at the national and regional data, research, insights and commentary that shows how COVID-19 and EU exit has impacted the regional economy. Drawing on a range of additional and innovative sources of data, ‘Our Economy: Insights into the impact of COVID-19 and EU transition on the North East Economy’ gathers intelligence on the impacts of the pandemic and EU exit on the North East economy from March 2020 to the current day.

Lucy Winskell OBE, Chair of the North East LEP, said: “This year, perhaps more than any other, developing our shared understanding of change in the regional economy is crucial.

“The work we have done to track, analyse and interpret data and evidence about the performance of our regional economy is central to our role at the North East LEP and a core part of the support we offer our partners.

“It is integral to our economic leadership, our influencing work with government, and underpins our investment decisions and stewardship of public funds, ensuring that regional programmes of delivery are targeted at addressing the key opportunities and challenges we face.”

The reports state that whilst the short-term impact of COVID-19 on the North East was highly disruptive and challenging, the region has continued to sustain increased levels of employment compared with its baseline in 2014, with continued growth of the proportion of better jobs – managers, directors and senior officials; professional occupations; and associate professional and technical occupations – in the region.

They also show the impact of COVID-19 on business and the labour market has been significant. Some sectors, including retail, culture and hospitality, have seen severe changes. Local, regional and national intervention has had an impact in protecting businesses and jobs, but the impact now many of these support measures have ended is unclear.

Inequalities within the region have been exacerbated by the pandemic too, with employers in many industries struggling with skills shortages.

The reports also include data showing that the region’s engagement with the global economy is changing, with the impact of EU Exit creating barriers to trade and the future trading environment still evolving.

Our Economy 2021 also looks at the performance of our programmes and sectors – which have been identified as areas of opportunity for the region, including health and life sciences, digital and energy.

Richard Baker, Strategy and Policy Director at the North East LEP explained: “The economic shock has accelerated a number of opportunities for the North East, with growth and new jobs in some of the key areas of strength and opportunity we have been focused on – in energy, life sciences and digital industries for example.

“Many firms across the economy have changed their operational models, with rapid deployment of digital technology, changing approaches to delivery of goods and services locally and growth in online exporting. There are genuine opportunities for the region to drive forward greener businesses and to drive productivity.”

The evidence provided by Our Economy is used to inform the work of the North East LEP and partners across the region in delivering the North East Strategic Economic Plan – the roadmap for increasing economic growth in the North East.

Our Economy 2021 is available to view on evidencehub.northeastlep.co.uk.

Our Economy: Insights into the impact of COVID-19 and EU transition on the North East Economy is also available to view on evidencehub.northeastlep.co.uk.

The North East Strategic Economic Plan can be read at northeastlep.co.uk.

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North East businesses helping the ‘COVID generation’ find a pathway to the workplace

Across the North East, partnerships have been formed between people working in sectors from marketing to manufacturing and their local school or college.

Across the North East, partnerships have been formed between people working in sectors from marketing to manufacturing and their local school or college. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) explains how the Enterprise Adviser network works, and how it’s survived the pandemic.

Enterprise Advisers are people who’ve signed up to help the senior management team at their local school or college better align careers guidance with what businesses need.

At the start of 2020, we had a fantastic network of 250 people who have volunteered to share their knowledge to help bridge the gap between education and industry. This happens by embedding careers in the curriculum and giving young people real-world experience of the workplace.

But when the pandemic hit, businesses were under such pressure that we thought we may lose the entire network. However, we were absolutely delighted and surprised that the majority of our Enterprise Advisers were able to continue and we’re really grateful for their contributions.

The activities our Enterprise Advisers have been able to help their schools undertake during COVID have been extraordinary and, for a generation of young people who will see the lasting effect of COVID on their employment opportunities, it’s been so important that the North East business community has continued to support them and help them see the opportunities that are out there when they leave education.

At St Robert of Newminster Catholic School in Washington, our Enterprise Adviser, Carole White, who is CEO at TEDCO Business Support, secured 10 businesses to meet year 10 pupils and tell them about careers in their sector. While at Bishop Auckland College, employability skills workshops and virtual work experience was put in place by the college’s Enterprise Adviser from Bowmer & Kirkland construction.

Businesses in our region genuinely want to give back to the local community and help young people build a brighter future and I want to thank every person who’s already helped make a difference through the Enterprise Adviser network, especially throughout the pandemic.

Now we’re wanting to grow our Enterprise Adviser network even further. We’re looking for people of any age, from businesses in any sector and of any size, who want to help schools give young people a better experience of careers guidance. We recognise one size doesn’t fit all and people have different amount of time to commit, so whether you’re a one-man-band or a multinational company, we can work something out to suit you.

We want all young people across the North East to have the opportunity to interact with businesses and employers. It gives them something that’s tangible in terms of understanding future career options and just one interaction, like a visit to your workplace, or the chance to work on a real-life project with an employer like you, can be the trigger that helps a young person see a future for themselves in your business.

Find out about being an Enterprise Adviser at NorthEastAmbition.co.uk.

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New report highlights impact of digital exclusion on access to education and employment in the North East

A new report published by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP) has highlighted the impact digital exclusion in the North East LEP area is having on people’s ability to access education, skills and employment.

Commissioned by the North East LEP’s Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), ‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ looks specifically at the economic and skills-related impacts of digital exclusion in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Published alongside IPPR North’s ‘Addressing digital exclusion in North East England’ research paper, the LEP’s digital exclusion report was carried out by New Skills Consulting.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, it shows more than 200,000 people in the North East LEP area have either never used the internet, or have not used it in the last three months. It also reinforces existing findings that show people from disadvantaged backgrounds are most affected by digital exclusion.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘Whilst we know digital exclusion is a problem in the North East, the coronavirus pandemic has really exacerbated the issue and highlighted why we must address it now.

“This report has allowed us to see the scale of the problem for the first time, and how COVID-19 has extended the gap that already existed in our region.

“If we truly want to level up the country and provide opportunities for all, we must address the issue of digital exclusion, and we must do it in partnership with businesses, education, the voluntary sector, and the public sector.”

‘Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area’ highlights that whilst the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption, it has also widened the gap in areas like education and employment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lack of in-person support during the pandemic has made it easier for people to withdraw, and limited access to digital devices has prevented people from accessing online training, job searches, and interviews.

Employers have also raised concerns about a lack of digital skills within the region’s workforce. A survey by the Department for Education in 2019 found 20% of North East employers found it difficult to recruit applicants with computer literacy or basic IT skills. 26% said they found it difficult to recruit people with advanced or specialist IT skills.

The report also looks at the effectiveness of existing initiatives to address digital exclusion, arguing that the current system is complex, with overlapping programmes and gaps in support. It also argues that much of the support available quickly becomes out of date and doesn’t meet the learning needs of people using the services.

Michelle continued: “If we look to countries like Finland, digital literacy is something that’s taught from kindergarten, it has the same level of importance as reading, writing and math’s.

“Whatever our agreed approach moving forward, we need to recognise that this issue isn’t just something that affects young people; it impacts people of all ages and at every stage in their lives. If people can’t access online tools to extend their learning, or can’t search and apply for employment opportunities online, how can they get into work or move up the career ladder from low-skill to high-skill jobs?”

The report puts forward a series of recommendations, recognising that the region’s response requires the support of academia; business; the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector; and the public sector.

Carol Botten, CEO of VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) and member of the North East LEP Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), said: “Some of the recommendations in our report can be delivered regionally, but others will need the support of Government and other stakeholders.

“We need to address the problem of access to digital devices, and how connectivity can be an additional barrier to people using digital services.

“We also need to prioritise education in digital skills from an early age, and ensure it becomes part of the curriculum in further and higher education.

“And by working with the business community, we can begin to develop a common framework for basic digital skills that meets the needs of employers.”

Michelle concluded: “Using the insights from this report and the IPPR North report, we plan to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge, agree a collective vision for the North East, and draw up the key areas we need to prioritise and address.

“This is a huge challenge for our region, and we won’t be able to tackle it all in one go. But we can start the process and make sure no one in the North East is left behind because they lack access to the digital skills, equipment and infrastructure so many of us take for granted.”

Read the Executive Summary of Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area by visiting the North East Evidence Hub.

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In conversation with Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, Professor Chris Day, about the role of universities in local and national recovery

As Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University – as well as a LEP board member representing further education – Professor Chris Day believes universities are absolutely central to our regional and national recovery. But to achieve all they can, they need to work together, and combine vision with the right support.

The day I started in this job, the first question that people asked me was: “How can you be a local and global university at the same time?”

For me, that’s not a conflict. Those two roles are totally complimentary.

If you’re an ambitious university, you need to deliver research that advances humanity’s shared knowledge. That means it needs to be as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

You need to offer an education that will help students to thrive in established and emerging industries, wherever they want to go.

But you also want that research – and those skills – to benefit the people who live here, in the North East of England. You want those people to see the results of your breakthroughs, whether that’s better cancer treatments or innovative processes and technologies.

And, above all, you want to create opportunity, and raise aspirations. A child growing up in the North East should be able to watch these new landmarks and industries rise on the skyline, and say, “One day, I’ll be a part of that. And it’ll change my life”.

Achieving all this needs vision, and dedication. But it also requires collaboration, transparency, and – sometimes – a willingness to try things a little differently.

Our role in the region

Newcastle University was founded in 1834 as a medical school, to produce doctors for the North East. It then became an engineering college, training workers for mining and shipbuilding.

Today, we produce graduates capable of pursuing careers in industries all over the world. But we’ve always taken our role in the region seriously.

When COVID-19 first made its presence felt, cities needed a decisive and connected response. And universities like ours had a key place at that table.

Due to our close links with the City Council and the Local Enterprise Partnerships in the region, we were meeting with major players in the city, managing students and vaccinations, and letting our medical students graduate early to assist with treatment and care.

As we start to allow ourselves to think about recovery, our role is as important as ever. Universities will undoubtedly come under pressure to justify their impact, as the Government considers tough decisions about funding. But the truth is this:

At a time when we need it most, universities have the power to become a valuable driver of our economy. With the right support, and vision.

In many ways, the addition of impact to the Research Excellence Framework has focused the minds of university leaders and academics. We’ve acknowledged that we need to show the benefit we bring to society more clearly, and pursue research that has a direct benefit. But it’s also important that universities undertake research that simply increases knowledge, and do the speculative work that enables us to take greater leaps forward.

Quantum physicists didn’t do research so that we could all have phones in our pockets. But we have these devices today because of what they learned.

Universities are the only place that can do work like this. In the R&D departments of companies with shareholders, you can’t have a few people in the corner simply “trying things out”. But that sort of work is absolutely essential.

If you want an example of that relationship, look at Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Researchers developing, and AstraZeneca putting cash in. The result is vaccines that we can all use, and two institutions playing to their strengths.

At Newcastle University, we’re investing in initiatives that will benefit both the world, and the region. Our Newcastle Helix site is the embodiment of our data and ageing science expertise. It’s home to 65 innovative companies, and more than 2,600 jobs. But it’s also crucial to our plans to assist with the regeneration of the West End of the city.

The old Newcastle General Hospital site will soon transform into the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, which will become a leading site for new drugs and discoveries, as well as a test bed for how to improve treatment and services for our ageing population.

Collaboration is absolutely vital to this work. Up in Blyth, Britishvolt is setting up a £2.6bn battery gigaplant, providing 3,000 highly skilled jobs as well as 5,000 down the supply chain.

One of the reasons that site was selected was because our university has fantastic battery researchers, and that we’re also able to provide the skills and training. We’re also linking our researchers with existing regional industries, such as our work with Nissan on the sustainable automotive industry.

That’s what a university can do, when it has the freedom to think beyond its core teaching, and dream of something bigger and more transformative.

And what’s at risk, if we think too small, or too fearfully.

What can we do better?

Universities UK launched the “Getting Results” campaign this summer because it believes universities have an integral role in developing talent, and building prosperity.

Universities are places of learning, places of innovation, and places of opportunity. But as every industry attempts to rebound from the events of the last two years, we need to respond, and address areas where we can do better.

That means working together. It means lifting each other up. And it means being clearer about what we do, and how we can help others.

For example, COVID-19 has emphasised the disparities in wealth and outcomes across the country. If you mapped areas of child poverty in 1850 across the UK with areas worst hit by COVID-19, they’d be almost identical.

So how do universities and their partners address these differences, and ensure more inclusive growth? The number of students from deprived backgrounds at our university has risen from 7% in 2016 to around 20%. But how do we continue this work, and help others across the country to do the same?

We need to work with Further Education partners to up-skill our current and future workforce for the roles they’ll take in future. And we’re talking about the 40 year olds, as well as the 20 year olds.

We still hear from businesses that don’t know where to go to access university R&D expertise. One of the aims of our campaign is to provide a website where a company can look up the lead contacts at Britain’s universities. We want them to be able to find the people with the expertise they want, form partnerships, and work together on valuable solutions.

Universities the length and breadth of the UK need to raise a flag, and show employers and policymakers that they can be a key player in the economic and social outcomes of our towns and cities, and the country as a whole.

We’re already a big part of our community. Let’s also be a big part of our recovery.

Professor Chris Day is the chair of the Universities UK group behind the “Getting Results” campaign. He is also vice chancellor and president of Newcastle University, as well as a member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership board representing the higher education sector.