THE University of Chester which has a base in Warrington, has been recognised nationally for its positive impact on businesses, local growth and regeneration, as well as its commitment to public and community engagement.
In a new Government-led benchmark demonstrating the importance of English Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), the results of the first-ever Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) were published yesterday, Wednesday, with the University scoring in the top 30% for Working with Business; its impact on Local Growth and Regeneration and for its Public and Community Engagement.
It also placed in the top 40% in the categories of Research Partnerships and Skills, Enterprise and Regeneration. The University scored higher than other comparative institutions in these categories.
The aim of the KEF is to increase efficiency and effectiveness in the use of public funding for knowledge exchange and to further a culture of continuous improvement in universities. It will allow institutions to have better understanding and improve their own performance, as well as provide businesses and other users with more information to help them to access the world-class knowledge and expertise that exists in English universities.
An example of an exchange of knowledge occurs when universities take the leading research and understanding they are recognised for and translate it into impact that benefits both the economy and society.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chester, Professor Eunice Simmons, said: “I am so encouraged and proud to see how the University is delivering real benefits to our region and beyond. This is through supporting established businesses and helping new ones to get off the ground; delivering cultural opportunities; and demonstrating our community spirit, which features heavily in the University’s new strategy, with the concept of developing Citizen Students to make purposeful contributions to society.
“As we prepare for a post-pandemic world, it has never been timelier to provide skills, jobs and learning. The University has proved it is in an excellent place to support all these requirements.”
The University offers its skills and expertise to a wide range of businesses. In the health sector, the institution has recently worked with a biological solutions organisation on an immunology project and on a study into Chron’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis with leading pharmaceutical companies. The University has worked with Wirral Community
NHS Trust to design, develop and deliver a Clinical Leadership Programme and has developed numerous research partnerships such as looking at reducing fat and salt in soups with a leading supermarket.
The University is a central part of the local economy (Cheshire and Warrington plus areas of Shropshire, Wirral and North Wales) and the wider region, providing the skills, research and business support to underpin growth ambitions, innovation and business resilience. It has developed strong working relationships with local LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships), businesses and other stakeholders to address the need and demand for specialist facilities, equipment and services, unlocking the potential for knowledge exchange activity, with more than 1,200 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) benefitting since 2016.
Through engagement with the LEP, Further Education colleges and key local employers, the University was able to identify growth areas. Supported by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), it developed the Riverside Innovation Centre to enable start-up and meeting facilities for small businesses; the NoWFOOD Centre, focussing on developing SMEs in the food and drink sector, and the High Growth Centre, at Thornton Science Park, where commercial tenants are also able to benefit from the University’s expertise. Working with Shropshire Council and the Marches LEP, the University developed University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS) to address a UK Higher Education ‘cold spot’ and to develop, attract and retain talent in that area.
The University is involved in growth and regeneration in numerous ways. Examples include: all students are encouraged to take a five-week work-based learning opportunity; the Venture programme has engaged more than 1,000 students in entrepreneurial activity; the Digital Solutions and CREST ERDF projects at UCS support businesses with digital health and environmental science; and the Eco-Innovation project, in partnership with Lancaster University, focuses on carbon reduction and environmental efficiencies in SMEs, with support from Master’s and PhD students.
The institution also has strong relationships with local NHS Trusts and Police forces, and 84% of its apprenticeship activity is with public sector employers.
With an emphasis on the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of the region and beyond, the University’s community and public engagement includes lectures, exhibitions, partnerships, specialist provision and projects through centres and institutes, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and professional advisory services.
It shares knowledge with the public sector extensively, through teacher education, nursing and health, policing, and social work. The University engages with the community through multiple events including its Volunteer Celebration Evening, involving students, partner charities, community groups; the Annual Diversity Festival open to the public/partners and focusing on improving engagement, diversity and inclusion; the High Sheriff’s Awards for Enterprise and the Volunteer and Wellbeing Fair.
The institution shares its knowledge and expertise through partnerships with a wide-ranging number of organisations including community events and lectures at Storyhouse; sharing social care expertise with the Alex Timpson Trust; the
Westminster Centre for Research in Veterans works with local Councils and charities to support the military community through award-winning research, education and community engagement; and the institution is a major contributor to the North West Hydrogen Alliance. In the community, there were 164 off-campus schools/college outreach events in 2018/2019; more than 16,700 people attended public lectures and events and more than 1,150 attended exhibitions. An incredible 23,678 hours of volunteering by students and staff were carried out in 2018/2019, with a significant proportion benefitting local communities.
Professor Neville Ford, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this report. It is the very first KEF and the result for the University of Chester is very promising indeed as we have performed well in our key areas of focus which are our work with businesses; our impact on local growth and regeneration and in our commitment to public and community engagement and how they bring benefit to the economy and society of our region.”