Teesside University is set to play a major role in a co-ordinated area response to Lord Heseltine’s Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited report, which was published earlier this month.
The report offers a number of recommendations to “secure a strong and sustainable economic future for the Tees Valley” – spanning industrial and urban regeneration; growth opportunities and wider regeneration; education, employment and skills; energy economy; housing; transport infrastructure; and leisure, environment and tourism – and how best to utilise the site of the former SSI plant following its closure.
The question now being asked is ‘what happens next?’ Professor Jane Turner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise and Business Engagement), has already taken her place on the Shadow Board of the South Tees Development Corporation alongside local authority leaders and local business people. The Board will set the vision of the South Tees Development area, focusing on economic growth and inward investment, and establish the first Mayoral Development Corporation outside of London.
Professor Turner said: 'The value of Lord Heseltine’s report is that it has brought to the attention of the rest of the UK and beyond what those of us who live here already know – that there is some outstanding innovation going on in the Tees Valley, not least here at Teesside University. We now need to re-focus, diversify and respond to the vast opportunities to make the Tees Valley a destination of choice.
'We want to play a leading role in the strategic response to ensure delivery of the education and skills piece. We want to have a serious conversation with schools, FE colleges and the business community about what this region is going to look like in 20 years’ time and therefore what skills are required. We need to make sure that we as a university are delivering the higher skills required in growing areas such as ICT and digital – including through DigitalCity, advanced manufacturing, biotech and health and also through the new degree apprenticeships – and that we are working closely with our feeder education institutions to ensure they are supported in their missions.
'Currently 60% of our students come from the Tees Valley so we are perfectly placed to respond. However, it’s important that education and skills is not just put in a box around what courses we offer. As a university our expertise in business engagement, enterprise and research and innovation will directly support the specific areas and growth sectors highlighted by Lord Heseltine. And because we are working with partners nationally and internationally we can continue to bring that world-leading business insight and contacts back into the area.
'I’m excited about the next stage of the conversation, which naturally also includes responding to last week’s EU referendum outcome, and will include exploring opportunities for the University to develop more commercial partnerships, providing dedicated support for large corporates and SMEs, and diversifying business and enterprise income.'
The University was at the heart of consultations around the development of the report and examples of its impact were cited throughout:
• The University’s overall 'strong reputation' – the report said that Teesside is 'ranked the best in Britain for student retention in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2015'. The University is in the UK Top 30, and first in the North East for teaching excellence in the same guide in 2016. Teesside was also described as “one of the UK’s leading Higher Education institutions for working with business”. It has been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize 2014-18 for 'world-class level work in the field of enterprise and business engagement'.
• A number of local initiatives which aim to improve links with the five main Further Education colleges – the report highlighted how Teesside runs the Higher Education Business Partnership, a collaboration between the University and these five Further Education colleges: 'The University and the colleges have been working together for over 20 years in a strategic partnership which is aimed at meeting the needs of the Tees Valley economy and the aspirations of local communities and individuals'.
• Employability skills – the report described how 'employability skills are also essential to students and Teesside University is already doing some fantastic work to look at employability, working with local employers to offer learners work placements and experience opportunities'.
• The Creative Fuse project, which is jointly funded by the AHRC and involves the other four universities in the North East – the report said that 'Creative Fuse brings the universities together with the 12 Local Authorities in the North East as well as businesses, artists and cultural organisations to look at how the creative, digital and IT sector can ensure it has enough of a skilled workforce for the future'.
• Animation and computer gaming expertise – the report noted that Teesside was one of the first universities to enter this field 20 years ago and now hosts the annual international Animex conference. The University is also listed in the world’s Top 15 schools for animation (Animation Career Review) and produces over 450 graduates annually from its School of Computing.
• The proposed National Horizon Centres – the report said that 'the Centre aims to help develop the industries which will transform the local economy – biologics, digital and engineering'.