Categories
Universities

Research and innovation clusters – new Royal Society policy briefing

The Royal Society launched a policy briefing on research and innovation clusters today – I provided support for the analysis and wrote the case studies for Israel, Pittsburgh, and Uppsala.

The report is online here, and there’s a blog by Professor Richard Jones on Wonkhe introducing the report: can research clusters help level up the country? Research Professional also has coverage (paywalled article).

(Photo of Pittsburgh from Unsplash)

Categories
Universities

Reshaping UK regions post-COVID: research and industrial capacity

Yesterday Nesta published a report arguing that some parts of the UK have missed out on £4 billion of public research and development (R&D) funding each year, plus a further £8 billion of private sector investment. Some of these regions never fully recovered from the 2008 Great Recession, and COVID-19 threatens to deepen these divisions.

The Government’s target – set before the pandemic – called for the UK to increase investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and by 3% in the future. The importance of this target is now greater than before. To meet it means empowering those regions with the lowest R&D intensity and recognising and supporting the vital role of universities and other partners in these regions.

Proposals in the report include devolving a substantial portion (25%) of the promised uplift in the R&D budget to nations, cities and regions, delivered through ‘Innovation Deals’.

The report also recognises how historic policy decisions have led to path dependency for regions, entrenching a set of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. (This factor is missing in some – otherwise reasonable – recent reports which instead advocate building on existing centres of excellence). As the Nesta authors put it:

The current situation is the result of a combination of deliberate policy decisions and a natural dynamic in which these small preferences combined with initial advantages are reinforced with time.

Industrial capacity

Decisions made by previous generations of policymakers and politicians also play an outsized role in the UK’s industrial policy.

This excellent piece on efficiency and redundancy in the UK, and how we need more of the latter at the expense of the former to ensure resilience, is taken forwards nicely by Andy Westwood in this discussion of building industrial capacity in the UK. Building in redundant capacity is seen as a signature trait of a ‘resilient’ city or region. Andy sets out the case for starting with ‘national self sufficiency’ in health and manufacturing but then rapidly broadening out to other sectors, with a focus on impact at the local level. Movement towards autarky is a balancing act needing careful trade-offs, but there is a strong case for securing – or at least diversifying – supply chains in key industries and sectors.

The pandemic has drastically curtailed trade and investment; a return to previous patterns of international cooperation (which differ across UK regions) following COVID-19, and when trade picks up, is unlikely. More emphasis will be given to secure and resilient supply chains within the UK and near neighbours. This means strengthening industrial capacity and domestic manufacturing in the UK, and ensuring the provision of critical goods and services across the country – with clear implications for spatially-aware policymaking and an opportunity for rebuilding local economies.

These discussions neatly fit with a few themes I have touched on in recent posts – on how discussions over the smart city have morphed into ones about self-sufficient cities, on the risks of poor policymaking for resilience, and why popular narratives around ‘resilient communities’ are dangerous. See also this piece by Yorkshire Universities on The Coronavirus Pandemic: Universities and the Economic Recovery of Place.

(Image credit)

Categories
Universities

When a local economy collapses, we can’t just rely on the grit of communities

This post originally appeared on the Yorkshire Universities website.

I’m a little late in reading Janesville: An American Story, Amy Goldstein’s tale of an industrial Wisconsin town in the depths of the Great Recession. The book received wide praise when published in 2017, telling the story of a community trying to pick itself up in the years following the closure of a major General Motors assembly plant. But the story has particular resonance now, as we stand on the cusp of another wave of economic upheaval. Here are three reflections.

A tale of two towns

Five years after the General Motors plant closed, the shock of vanished jobs has faded. But ‘the ways that time and economic misfortune can rend even a resilient community – a community determined not to lie down and give up – are plain to see’. Goldstein describes the emergence of two Janesvilles: one of business owners that emerged relatively unscathed, and another large group of struggling families. For this group, part of a ‘broad tumbling downhill’, the future is uncertain, incomes have halved, mortgages outstrip house values, food stamps have replaced eating out, and health insurance stops.

Inequality is at the heart of recent work by Yorkshire Universities on health and wealth, including a forthcoming report with NHS Confederation and the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). Just before the pandemic struck, Sir Michael Marmot published a report showing widening regional disparities in life expectancy, including falling life expectancy for the poorest. In Yorkshire and the Humber, healthy life expectancy at birth is lower than the national average – with stark variations within the region too. Absence from work because of sickness is greater than the national average. Mortality rates are uniformly higher.

The danger is that the long-term economic impact of coronavirus exacerbates these inequalities. A briefing paper from the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes uncomfortable reading, referencing a study that showed a 1% fall in employment leads to a 2% increase in the prevalence of chronic illness:

To put this in context, if employment were to fall by the same amount as it fell in the 12 months after the 2008 crisis, around 900,000 more people of working age would be predicted to suffer from a chronic health condition. Only about half this effect will be immediate: the full effect will not be felt for two years. The shock to employment from the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be much larger than this and so we may expect a larger rise in poor health.

The poorest in society are hit hardest by recessions, driving wider inequalities in health and wealth, and splitting towns and cities into two.

The challenges of retraining

‘It isn’t simple to take someone with a high school degree and a factory job and help lead them into new work’, reflects Bob Borremans. Bob is a community leader and head of Janesville’s job centre, and faces an uphill battle despite enthusiastic trainees and injections of federal cash.

Retraining and re-skilling are obvious responses to job losses and economic restructuring. But promised jobs at the end of retraining do not always materialise, and the path to graduation is tough. In Janesville, many former factory workers turned to courses at Blackhawk Technical College funded by federal grant programmes. Despite the laudable work of the college, the average pay of those who graduate is a shadow of their pre-recession wages.

The UK’s What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth concludes that employment training programmes for adults can have a positive, although modest, impact on earnings and employment. The key to success is designing appropriate programmes. A review of the evidence by the Centre found shorter programmes (below six months) are more effective for less formal training activity, and that longer programmes generate employment gains when the content is skill-intensive. On the job training programmes tend to outperform classroom-based ones. Further and higher education providers should bear this in mind in the months and years to come.

Phoenixes vs. Planting Seeds

Janesville is proud of its ‘can-do spirit’, a trait that can be traced back generation to generation, to the industrious and hard-working communities that first attracted the likes of General Motors to the town. The problem is that a can-do spirit is, by itself, rarely enough to save a town struck by economic upheaval.

In another project, I have been exploring how world-leading research clusters have emerged in certain places – from advanced manufacturing in Pittsburgh, to life sciences in the Stockholm-Uppsala region, to the high-tech industry in Israel. Many of these have a popular ‘origin story’, often spun by an enthusiastic local press. The story usually goes something like this. The town has a proud past rooted in a particular industry. Economic calamity strikes due to wider structural forces. The proud industry is obliterated. There’s mass unemployment, and, temporarily, hope is lost. But the community is resilient and bounces back through sheer determination and hard work, attracting a new industry and forging a new, bright future – a high-tech phoenix rising from industrial ashes.

The reality is often messier, and the roots of any revival go back much further than the economic calamity. Take Pittsburgh. The steel industry in the city collapsed in the 1980s and the unemployment rate hit 18 percent. The city’s revitalisation is often explained by the grit and character of Pittsburghers, whereas the seeds of revival were planted decades before when the steel industry was at its height. Philanthropic investment led to specialist expertise being developed at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, including a new medical school, forming the foundation of Pittsburgh’s research and innovation clusters today.

There is a similar story in Sweden. When Pharmacia, then one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Europe, merged with the US company Upjohn in 1995, around 200 research and managerial positions were moved out of Uppsala; the move was initially seen as striking a huge blow to the region. The popular narrative is that the vacuum left by the company’s withdrawal led to a frenzy of entrepreneurial start-ups and innovative ideas. But the emergence of the Uppsala cluster is the result of industrial and academic collaboration over at least 70 years.

The message here is not that people and communities are not important. Specialisation builds on rich legacies, and new clusters form around old industries. Some people – especially the highly-skilled – will thrive; employment in automation and industrial machinery in Pittsburgh is more than twice the national average. But people need to be empowered by structures and institutions that support them. Some places are fortunate to have seeds planted long ago, such as a strong university. Despite the challenges such institutions will be facing themselves, they will need to step up. For places those without, relying on grit will not be enough.

(Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash)

Categories
Universities

Lessons from the demise of 100 Resilient Cities

100 Resilient Cities closed its doors at the start of August. Although principally aimed at local governments and city administrations, the organisation’s focus on solving locally-identified challenges made it, in my opinion, highly relevant for universities.

The three African cities in my doctoral research – Accra, Addis Ababa and Kigali – are all resilient cities. Several posts on this site focus on resilience (examples here and here). And I have interviewed the Chief Resilience Officers in Toronto and Milan for several research projects that have stressed the role of universities in tackling urban problems.

There’s good coverage on CityLab and The Conversation on what the closure of 100 Resilient Cities means and some of the reasons for it being shuttered. Over on LinkedIn, Elliott Cappell, the former Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Toronto, posted an excellent analysis of the ascent and demise of 100 Resilient Cities, asking what can we learn. Elliott kindly gave permission for me to republish his post here – it’s well worth a read for considering what we can learn for similar future initiatives. Over to Elliott…

As of August 1st, 2019, 100 Resilient Cities is winding down.

Yes, you read that correctly: the $160m, Rockefeller-backed, global organization with offices from Mexico City to Singapore, and Chief Resilience Officers in 80 cities, has shuttered its windows.  This is a truly acute shock for anyone working on urban development, climate change, or international development.

I remember the first day I walked into 100RC’s offices in Manhattan, because that was the day I met Otis Rolley (who was then an executive of 100RC).  If you have met Otis, you will also recall your first time. Otis is so charismatic, so honest, and so intelligent that it defies description. It is hard not to like Otis.

On that April day in 2017, Otis cited scripture to describe the ascent of 100RC and its network of CROs: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”.  The passage, in this context, meant that 100RC was growing, drawing in the best people, the greatest cities, and the brightest ideas – and so drawing in even better people, more partners, and better ideas.  Otis was right, too.

Yet, just 28 months later, 100RC is finished. Wow.

How did this happen?  If you are working in cities or climate change or development, it is worth trying to understand how 100RC went from ascent to demise in just two years.  From my perspective, there are three lessons:

In public policy, simple ideas become complex very quickly.

In public policy, simple ideas become complex very quickly.  100RC started with a great idea: making cities around the world resilient to shocks, like Hurricane Katrina. They made it a bit more complex, by introducing the concept of ‘stresses’ that make those shocks worse, like poor land use planning or institutional racism.  Tackling ‘shocks and stresses’ was a huge, audacious idea, literally with the potential to change the world.

But then 100RC made it much more complex.  They promised resilience wouldn’t just be focused on the pending doom of climate change, but would actually solve ‘any challenges cities faced’.  They would create a ‘marketplace for resilience’, and ‘innovative finance for resilience’.  100RC’s approach was documented in a ‘guidance manual’ of hundreds of pages, in which ‘meetings’ became ‘bootcamps’; ‘consultants’ became ‘strategy partners’; and ‘discovery areas’ would feed into cities’ ‘opportunity assessments’.  Even the press releases are complex enough that it is really hard to understand what 100RC is doing or why.

Cities are complex systems, so it’s hard to simplify and still create meaningful change.  But the 100RC strategy should have been simpler; because simple becomes complex, and in this case, complex became unachievable.

If you get the local political economy wrong, your project will fail.

100RC’s second challenge was to apply their model, which was based on American cities’ governance, to cities around the world.  But cities are governed differently around the world. For example, as CRO in Toronto, I reported to the City Manager, who is like the CEO of the city, whereas our Mayor is like the Chairperson of the Board.  But in New York, the CRO reports to the Mayor, who is CEO and Chairperson both.

In international development, we refer to these subtle but very important differences as ‘the local political economy’.  If you get the local political economy wrong, your project will fail.

From my perspective on the ground, 100RC was not able to internalize the differences between New York and Toronto – which are only an hour away by plane.  Those differences created massive barriers to implementing 100RC’s model in our context. Now multiply that problem by 100 cities across dozens of countries, and you have a second reason 100RC is shut today: local political economy matters.

The third reason is money. 100RC spent lots and lots of money.  Annually, 100RC flew dozens of tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to Italy, where they were served meals literally topped with edible gold leaves (or gold leafs, in Toronto’s political economy).  They held a ‘resilience track’ at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas (Vegas was not a 100RC city). They held ‘learning labs’ around the world on a range of topics such as a ‘city currency’, and they spent lots doing so.

What do Las Vegas, a city currency, or consumer electronics have to do with protecting cities from climate change?  Didn’t we start this whole thing because of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy? Where was climate change in all this spending?  One can draw a connection from venture capital to city resilience (100RC tried), but it certainly isn’t straightforward.

If you’re working on public policy or using public resources, you need to keep tightly accountable to linking your budget with your outcomes.  It isn’t easy to explain why using philanthropic funds for ‘living labs’ and ‘platform partners’ (100RC parlance for site visits and for short term consulting advice) leads to improved resilience.  So the third lesson here is that monitoring and evaluation is crucial: tracking to clear metrics help us demonstrate that money is leading to change.

100RC was successful and continues to be relevant, as climate change causes problems faster than cities are coming up with solutions.

100RC was not a failure.  In a short time there has been a substantial change in how cities act and think, and it’s very impressive how much was achieved.  With most people living in cities and the climate causing problems faster than we come up with solutions, 100RC is actually still relevant.  That 100RC was successful and is relevant makes today feel like a brutal, bruising failure.

I hope many other people in our industry share their thoughts on how we got here.  100RC was a very important organization, and it is important that we, as urban development, climate change, and international development professionals, own and understand this as a collective failure.  If, by the grace of the Rockefeller Foundation, we get another shot at helping cities combat climate change, we need to identify and learn the lessons from 100RC’s demise.

Elliott

Read the original post on LinkedIn here.

Update February 2020: here’s what has happened since.

(Image credit)

Categories
Universities

Tracking strategic internationalisation over time

Giorgio Marinoni and Hans de Wit ask in a recent edition of International Higher Education whether ‘the internationalisation of higher education has become a strategic process at higher education institutions (HEIs) around the world’.

They correctly note that having a strategy does not mean having a strategic approach. Drawing on a survey of 907 universities from 126 countries, they conclude that ‘the presence of an institution-wide policy/strategy for internationalisation, as well as the presence of a dedicated office or team to oversee its implementation, are becoming the norm at HEIs around the world’. Both the presence of a strategy and of dedicated teams have grown significantly over the past 15 years, according to previous survey data.

However, the development of monitoring frameworks has ‘stagnated’, and the authors find a risk of a gulf opening up between those institutions who choose to (and can afford to be) strategic about internationalisation, and those who are less engaged.

These discussions build on two related strands of work I’ve been involved with in the past: universities working with cities on internationalisation (with a central conclusion being a need for ‘strategic internationalisation’), and the ineffectiveness of many university engagement strategies. On the latter, and with a UK-focus, this post on the HEPI blog is worth a read: ‘almost 63% of university strategies have end dates in 2019, 2020 or 2021 and hence will need to be re-written and re-launched over the next few years’.

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Categories
Universities

Entrepreneurship in UK education: the local dimension

The National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE) launched the Inspiring Entrepreneurship in Education report last week at the House of Lords, capturing the views of 62 Heads of Enterprise from UK universities (I provided the analysis).

The report was covered by Times Higher Education (paywall article), who led with the finding that university support for enterprise in local schools and communities has significantly decreased in the past six years. The full report here (PDF) covers a wide range of activity and indicators, perhaps best summed up by this visual heat map from the annex. The first column is 2018 activity and the second column 2012 data, and greener is better:

The article ends by summing up the report conclusions focusing on local activity:

The report also recommends that universities consider how existing activity and the work of students in particular could engage with schools and communities, and that staff promote the work of local entrepreneurs, in preference to tales of high-profile examples such as Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, to make entrepreneurship seem more accessible to students.

The final recommendation in particular was also echoed by Professor Alison Wolf, Baroness of Dulwich, who also spoke at the event.

Categories
Guest post Universities

No ordinary think tank

Guest post by Jonathan Schifferes, Associate Director – Public Services and Communities at the RSA

At the dawn of a new parliament – one which will be gripped by negotiating Britain’s international relations while also negotiating new alliances in the House of Commons – the UK gained another think tank last week.

Some political insiders explain that this kind of parliament is likely to sideline the philosophers and reformers with a policy vision for government. Instead the deal-makers, the tactical masters, and the charismatic will be in demand.

In this context, what contribution can a think tank realistically make in the coming year? At the RSA we have been working over the last two years to support the development of a new kind of think tank: one that is focused on the issues of a specific place, within an ‘anchor institution’ that itself shapes the place it is in.

Despite over a decade of devolution and localism in UK politics, there are remarkably few1 civil society organisations that have been established with a place as their focus. We hear frequent complaints of policy silos and politics centred on Westminster, yet most think tanks organise themselves around a policy issue and locate themselves in Westminster.

To generate a richer debate on the social and economic development of the UK’s towns and cities, we need to bridge the gap between the sidelined political philosophy and the daily grind of machine politics. For several years, the RSA has recognised that universities have enormous potential to drive social and economic outcomes in the places they exist – echoing calls for a new breed of ‘civic university’.

RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor gave the keynote speech last week, launching Nottingham Civic Exchange, based at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). In partnership with the university leadership, the RSA has helped shape this civic think tank – bringing together many of our Fellows across the region and pooling our research capabilities. NTU views Nottingham Civic Exchange as a key part of delivering its overall strategy.

Going to the heart of what will matter in the lives of one million people across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, the first programme of Nottingham Civic Exchange is called ‘Out of the Ordinary’. Today, NCE publishes an analysis of ‘ordinary working families’ in the city-region. Rather than simply using economic analysis to fuel Westminster soundbites, and packaging up a new demographic for electoral fodder, this study uncovers important data on Ordinary Working Families in a specific place.

Six million people define themselves as ‘just about managing’

While the struggles of the ‘squeezed middle’, ‘alarm clock Britain’ and households on low and moderate incomes have been discussed for years, what is most remarkable is that nationwide, an estimated six million people define themselves as ‘just about managing’, despite being in households with income above the national median.

In Nottingham, jobs in the caring and leisure industries are more common sources of employment compared to the UK average, and the prevailing low pay of these sectors – where women hold the majority of roles – challenges household finances. The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission made the case for place-based industrial strategies, which will be even more crucial as the economic adjustment of leaving the EU approaches, and devolution seems likely to stall. NTU has a particular accountability to families who are ‘just about managing’ – 21% of their 2015 full time undergraduate intake is estimated to come from this background.

Through the summer, the RSA’s ongoing work with NCE will bring a further focus on economic insecurity. We think addressing economic security is a neglected policy goal, which will help bring in to focus the following:

  • The breakdown of traditional class markers. University education has expanded for the recent generation, occupational roles in the workplace are undergoing accelerating change, and home ownership is declining among adults in their 30s establishing families. The financial security previously afforded by a university degree and a white-collar job is eroding, and partly as a consequence owner-occupation is less easily accessible as a form of insurance to protect against unstable or falling incomes. As post-election analysis has suggested, ‘age is the new class’ when it comes to predicting how people align to support political parties.
  • The importance of households as a unit of analysis. Most labour market statistics, for example, look at workers as individuals. Most workers live in households and financial decisions are made in that context: 43% of people have a joint account with their partner. Families and their homes transmit wealth through the economy at a scale which dwarfs the government’s own system of tax-funded pensions. Differences in the experience of insecurity between generations remain relatively under-explored.
  • The importance of looking across the life-course rather than using snapshot data pictures. Looking at longitudinal data across Europe, the lower middle class has the highest rates of transitory poverty; moving in and out of poverty defines their economic status.
  • The economic, fiscal, social and health impacts of subjective (‘felt’) insecurity are just as, if not more potent than, the effects of objective insecurity and material deprivation. This doesn’t mean that addressing material deprivation and poverty should be neglected as policy goals. But it does mean recognising that progressing in the modern workplace brings anxieties and volatility, not necessarily the secure affluence that many crave.
  • Longer-term, a defining characteristic of our era is declining confidence that the future will be better than the past. A survey in 2015 found 25% of UK respondents thought their children would be better off than them; 68% thought they would be worse off.

Nottingham housing

My hypothesis is that in a rich country like the UK, being secure in your economic status matters alongside your absolute affluence. And overall economic inequality matters in part because it exacerbates the experience and perception of insecurity for all in society: greater inequality means there is more to gain and more to lose from a change in their position on the income spectrum.

Beyond the day-to-day parliamentary dealmaking, the election aftermath may prove be one in which austerity plans are dialled down, labour market considerations dominate Brexit talks and vote-winning policies for ‘ordinary working families’ are reconsidered. At the very least, facing a broad range of possible futures makes it a good time to be a nimble think tank.

We need more people to be more involved in policymaking

The next phase of work for Nottingham Civic Exchange will look in more detail at the lives of Ordinary Working Families through research, policy development and working with local communities to identify important issues and come up with recommendations for making changes which have real life impact. They will also link students and staff at the university with wider communities through scholarships, internships, and research projects. In line with the RSA’s wider programme on revitalising economic democracy, we need more people to be more involved in policymaking – in this parliament and beyond – if government and society is to successfully address growing economic insecurity for growing numbers of people. Through partnering with a university committed to improving the city and region it calls home, Nottingham Civic Exchange will tighten the links between policy, action and legitimacy in addressing economic insecurity.

Jonathan is Associate Director – Public Services and Communities at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). Read his posts on the RSA website here, or follow him on Twitter here.

This post originally appeared on the RSA blog.

Photos of Nottingham: top jess_k_kent1 on Flickr, middle Mr Thinktank on Flickr.


  1. We are aware of: Newcastle City Futures, Centre for London, Southern Policy Centre, Manchester New Economy. Let us know in the comments of others that we have missed. 
Categories
Universities

History, policy and development

Having studied both history and international development, I’m always interested in work that bridges the two. ‘History, Historians and Development Policy’ fits the bill perfectly. One of the many valuable lessons to draw from such work is the importance of taking a long term view:

…history brings a particular kind of perspective to development problems – it is a vantage point for framing and viewing the nature of development which is relatively long term and comparative, while also paying full attention to, and not shying away from, critical issues of power, contestation and conflict. (p.16)

In policy both the medium and long term views are often sacrificed in favour of the short term, for example the apparent willingness to erase the institutional memory on higher education within government. Although this rarely results in colossal blunders, it clearly hinders effective learning and can engender cynicism in those on the receiving end.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is an interesting exercise to free ourselves from the short and medium term and think ultra long term. For example, this piece argues that ‘megacities, not nations, are the world’s dominant, enduring social structures’, and that cities have outlasted all ‘empires and nations over which they have presided’. If we were to frame development in terms of cities (and the towns in their orbit and the spaces that separate them) rather than nations, how would this affect policy? And would, for example, universities in those cities change their strategies? (I’ll look at this next week).

We should welcome historians into policymaking. The excellent History & Policy site attempts to do just that. An essay from 2010 on ‘The ‘Idea of a University’ today’ concludes:

If we seek guidance from the past, it is better to see the ‘idea of the university’ not as a fixed set of characteristics, but as a set of tensions, permanently present, but resolved differently according to time and place. Tensions between teaching and research, and between autonomy and accountability, most obviously. But also between universities’ membership of an international scholarly community, and their role in shaping national cultures and forming national identity; between the transmission of established knowledge, and the search for original truth; between the inevitable connection of universities with the state and the centres of economic and social power, and the need to maintain critical distance; between reproducing the existing occupational structure, and renewing it from below by promoting social mobility; between serving the economy, and providing a space free from immediate utilitarian pressures; between teaching as the encouragement of open and critical attitudes, and society’s expectation that universities will impart qualifications and skills. To come down too heavily on one side of these balances will usually mean that the aims of the university are being simplified and distorted.

Photo Credit: roomman via Compfight cc