The question, ‘How can economic development professionals work most effectively with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to drive growth?’, which we explored in a recent Institute of Economic Development webinar with university colleagues, is a deep one for economic development professionals.
At the heart of this question is the type of growth we are looking to achieve. Is it jobs-based (e.g. jobs-led recovery), business-based (e.g. to build a stronger business base), inclusive, low carbon/net zero, innovation or sectoral? By answering this question within the overarching question we can then think about how we effectively engage, work together, and ultimately look at driving that growth.
Once we know the type of growth sought, we can understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of HEIs locally, and what they do in those areas. Another area implicit in that is research and data: how this can support the arguments you are making, the growth aspirations, and the model you are seeking to unlock.
In South Yorkshire we have two world-class institutions in the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University as well as several FE colleges delivering Higher Education. The two universities are very different in how they engage with economic development. We welcome that difference and they also work collaboratively.
The University of Sheffield has a dedicated regional engagement team which works closely with the Mayoral Combined Authority and the LEP, and with local authority officers across South Yorkshire to engage around all sorts of economic development projects including business research, regeneration, arts and culture and public realm. With Sheffield Hallam, the relationship is more open and organic. I have very close relationships with academics in different thematic areas, and we know where to go, for example working very closely with Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional and Social Economic Research around inclusive growth.
The two universities are heavily involved in some key place-based economic growth drivers. The University of Sheffield leads the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre as an exemplar innovation-led place-based model. Meanwhile, Sheffield Hallam has a place-based innovation asset in the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre which is seeking to unlock positive change in the Attercliffe area of Sheffield. There are some striking similarities and differences with both as innovation-led economic assets.
Going forward, we want a productive and effective relationship with both universities. We want to be on the same page around our priorities, and that means working together and communicating the strengths of the respective institutions, whether that is outreach, research, innovation, regeneration, culture or something else.
What we cannot underestimate is the importance of accessing data, and our universities often have the information required by economic development professionals, and sometimes a lot quicker than we think. We want more of that, because as we make the case for the ‘levelling-up’ agenda, we need the evidence to do that.
Jonathan Guest is senior economic policy manager at Sheffield City Region, and a member of the Institute of Economic Development