Universities Can Fill the Skills Gap and Boost Economic Performance; GREG WALKER, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF HIGHER EDUCATION WALES - THE BODY THAT REPRESENTS UNIVERSITIES - OUTLINES WAYS OF INCREASING RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITY IN THE WELSH ECONOMY
THE Deputy First Minister's bold step in undertaking a thorough review of the Assembly's economic development programmes is a sign that radical thinking is going on at the heart of government.
Universities have played a full part in bringing constructive and far-reaching proposals to the table with the Assembly Government as part of its Economic Renewal Programme. Raising Wales' poor productivity and innovation levels through research and high level skills is the only way we will escape a global "race to the bottom" where we compete with low-wage economies.
Because of the structure of Wales' economy, universities make up a large share of the research and development (R&D) base - in fact universities conduct more research than the industrial sector in Wales. The opposite is the case in many English regions where business R&D is greater.
As autonomous enterprises not strictly in the public sector, universities play a key role in linking business with publicly funded research and a pool of skilled graduates.
So what is to be done to help create economic renewal in Wales? When meeting the Deputy First Minister two weeks ago, university leaders suggested four key ways in which we can achieve this economic transformation. First, a substantial annual budget line in the Assembly's economy department should be dedicated to supporting joint strategic university-business R&D projects.
The Assembly and the universities should aim to establish at least three major partnerships each year. This would follow on from the successful research and innovation programme established between the aerospace company EADS, Cardiff University and other universities in Wales - a project supported by the Assembly.
Such joint R&D ventures have the potential not only to benefit the business and the universities concerned, but also to generate additional earnings for Wales from the UK Research Councils and the EU.
Secondly, Higher Education Wales put forward proposals to ensure that International Business Wales and the Assembly's European & External Relations Division works actively alongside universities to explore exciting international higher education partnerships. …