How the practice of skills-sharing and knowledge exchange is putting the North at the heart of economic growth


A Blog by Nick Goldspink 

As the North looks to redefine its economy, moving away from its industrial heritage towards a new era of research and technology based industries, regeneration and development of the region is in the hands of its future workforce.

Improving skills across the board – from schools to the workplace – will provide a foundation for skilled employees to maximise opportunities in the emerging research and technology sector.

The N8 Research Partnership was set up to promote collaboration between eight key research-intensive universities in the North of England; Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York. The institutions are major economic enterprises, generating revenue and economic activity in the North, as well as creating jobs and attracting investment to the region. Acting as a partnership, we are able to harness ‘the power of eight’.

Through innovative research capabilities and collaboration, the N8 brings together a critical mass of researchers to address a number of specific challenges that can be met more effectively by working together. Maximising the impact of the research base is crucial to driving economic growth.

In 2014/15 the N8 universities generated turnover upwards of £4.1 billion, and contributed £6.6 billion to the GVA of the north. That is 2.2% of total North of England GVA, which is no mean feat.

We also know that Northern employment supported by N8 universities and students totals 119,000 FTE jobs. Additionally, N8 universities attract annual research income of £1.26 billion. Our work supporting industrial engagement, through programmes like the N8 Industry Innovation Forum, which matched companies with research challenges to academic solutions, brought over £10m of investment to the region. To not consider university institutions as a vital cog in the North’s economic growth machine would be a mistake.

The traditional primary manufacturing and heavy industrial roots associated with the North of England have been met with the emergence of exciting new sectors which are growing at a formidable pace as new skills are developed in the workforce. Since 2010, N8 universities have generated more than 1,000 patents, 230 companies, 350 student start-ups with nine of those companies valued at over £1 million. Student start-ups have benefitted enormously from entrepreneurial and enterprise training programmes to improve their skill set as well as challenges, competitions, and support for developing new business models within the universities.

The N8 Research Partnership’s main research areas have been chosen based on existing research strengths in the N8 universities and the potential for growth and economic impact, AgriFood and Urban and Community Transformation. The research programmes of the N8 are great opportunities for early career researchers to collaborate, share skills and build networks amongst colleagues from across the group. Opportunities to apply for seed funding have helped researchers in both areas to start new projects, with around 75 projects receiving funding in this way.

The N8 Research Partnership focusses primarily on the research aspect of the HE agenda, however helping to support and develop world-class research programmes also provides a vibrant teaching environment. By creating skilled graduates the universities can contribute to the economic growth of the region, either as those graduates go out and get jobs, or by having them stay at universities, delivering research programmes, and passing the knowledge of the research outcomes back into the economy.

Ultimately, it is equipping all generations with the skills needed to shape the way the North operates and how it’s perceived from a business perspective. Information and skills-sharing and knowledge-exchange will help to bring technologies from the research base into industry, creating jobs and new opportunities across the North.