Universities on Track to Help Lead Recovery; Acting Director of Higher Education Wales Greg Walker Looks at the Crucial Role Universities Are Playing in Looking to Boost the Standing of the Welsh Economy
Byline: Greg Walker
THE role of universities in helping to lead an economic recovery is at the forefront of our minds as ministers, business people and representatives of various sectors meet today for the seventh Wales Economic Summit.
The downturn has hit the Welsh economy acutely and exposed some underlying weaknesses. Those weaknesses are well known - low labour productivity coupled with relatively low levels of R& D, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Universities are a pivotal part of the solution in addressing these shortcomings. Firstly, universities help upskill the Welsh workforce with our degree programmes and other courses. The analytical and communications skills possessed by graduates are valued by employers and will become increasingly important as we develop a knowledge-based economy.
Evidence suggests that people with a post-graduate qualification are the most likely to become entrepreneurs and wealth creators.
Secondly, our direct economic contribution to the economy is substantial and growing. The university sector has a turnover of more than a billion pounds and generates at least as much again in knock-on economic activity.
Though the university sector receives about 40% of its income from the Assembly, universities lever into Wales the clear bulk of their income from fees and research funds gained from UK and global sources.
Thirdly, research and innovation transferred to businesses from universities help improve productivity and business performance. Technology transferred from universities is crucial in the "race to the top" of the value chain in products and services.
This is particularly relevant as we face the threat of unprecedented climate change. The Wales Economic Summit will today be examining the imperative of creating "green jobs" as we deal with the challenge of ecological upheaval. The role of universities in producing the basic and applied research to address climate change is vital, and several Welsh universities are working together through the Low Carbon Research Centre to pioneer new technologies in this area.
But in a recession universities in Wales are doing far more than just taking a "business as usual" approach. Universities are making particular efforts to respond to the needs of businesses and individuals in the downturn. Universities have set up special areas of their websites to set out what tailored support for business they can offer. Many have established, or are establishing, distinct skills centres or skills techniums to work directly with employers.
They have also launched a number of scholarships to enable graduates to develop their skills rather than immediately face what is a particularly harsh job market. …