Getting Results: Universities are uniquely placed to drive local post-Covid recovery

To mark a new report showcasing the role of Scottish universities in economic and social recovery, we’re publishing a series of blogs from Principals highlighting how higher education will deliver for Scotland over the next five years. Every day this week we’ll publish a blog from a Principal looking at a different area of contribution. The second blog in the series is written jointly by Professor Nigel Seaton, Principal of Abertay University, and Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal of the University of Dundee, who talk about their institutions’ role in Dundee’s regeneration.

There is no part of our society or economy that has escaped the ravages of the pandemic but our cities have borne the brunt. As universities work to support Scotland’s recovery, every aspect of our contribution has potential in helping cities find their future by delivering a highly skilled workforce, creating and deploying new knowledge to support industry and society, and as magnet institutions providing good jobs and creating wealth in the community.

At a Scotland level, and based on past performance, the National Centre for Education and Enterprise predicts that universities will attract £400 million of regeneration funding over the next five years. That’s in addition to the wider leverage effect from foreign direct investment and other private sector investment attracted here based on our world-class people, research and innovation opportunities.

Abertay University and the University of Dundee have deep and proud roots in our city and build on a very visible and strong track record, of inclusive regeneration; attracting investment, creating jobs and bringing new social and cultural initiatives like V&A Dundee and, we expect, the Eden Project as part of the waterfront regeneration that, together with the Tay Cities Deal, is driving the renaissance of Dundee. As universities, we are outward looking and value our national and international networks. We are leveraging these international connections for great benefit back home. They offer us, and the whole region, new opportunities that keep Dundee on the map and as a place increasingly recognised as a powerhouse of the bioeconomy and a vibrant hub for the computer games industry, rather than for jam and jute. Times change but universities continue to have an important role in putting the city itself in the driving seat of that reinvention and regeneration, stimulating the emergence of new industries and giving people new reasons to want to work, study and live here. A very recent example of that is the Michelin Scotland Innovation Park. Borne out of the closure of the Michelin tyre factory, a local employer of over 700 people, Dundee and Abertay Universities, as well as St Andrews University and other partners have jointly mobilised to create a new Skills Academy on the site which will retrain engineers, technicians and operators. With a focus on sustainable mobility and decarbonisation, the MSIP gives Dundee a greener future. Next year, Abertay University will open the cyberQuarter, establishing Dundee as Scotland’s capital for cybersecurity, a major growth industry that offers the city huge potential, and the University of Dundee is developing the new Tay Cities Biomedical Cluster which will help keep billion dollar spin outs like the AI drug discovery company, Exscientia, here in Scotland.

Similar examples can be found across the country whether that’s the mission-driven role the University of the Highlands and Islands plays in its region or Glasgow University’s reenergising of industry on the Clyde, with a new high-tech campus planned in Govan making it the new home of nanotechnology and precision medicine.

As we work with our towns, cities and regions to emerge from the pandemic, we need to take forward our experience and our learning from the catalytic City Deals. The UK Government’s new Shared Prosperity Fund, as the successor to European funding, must recognise regional diversity and offer flexibility so we can tailor solutions to suit the opportunity. It must also be able to operate on a scale that allows ambition and sufficient scope to have a meaningful impact.

There are opportunities out there for recovery. As universities, we will continue to work with our full range of partners to ensure we enable those opportunities in ways that support inclusive social and economic regeneration for the cities we are very proud to be a part of.