Sheffield universities are among those at the heart of a new, twenty-first century economy...

My father, who died last year, left school at the age of fourteen. He worked first for a small engineering company and then, after national service, for most of his working life in a textile factory (writes Professor Sir Chris Husbands).

Thursday, 18th April 2019, 13:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th April 2019, 13:32 pm
Virtual reality technology at Sheffield Hallam University

When it closed in the economic crisis of the 1970s he went on to another factory, which, in turn, closed.

His was a twentieth century working life: he moved from school to relatively secure employment in heavy industry. It’s a pattern and economy which has gone, as we know well in this region.

Successive waves of economic, social and technological change have transformed workplaces and regions. The twenty-first century economy is turning out radically different from the twentieth century economy. Increasingly, investment is shaping an economy which is digitally-led, where advanced technologies pervade every aspect of life.

Universities are at the heart of this new economy: leading the research and innovation ecosystem; brokering the exchange of knowledge and educating highly-skilled graduates whose capabilities are increasingly important to a knowledge-led world.

The workplace – as we all know – has been transformed by technologies. One of the major challenges for us all is to find ways to close the gaps between innovation and implementation, between academia and industry.

Sheffield Hallam is a university at the forefront addressing these challenges. This week we are running a programme of communications and engagement – with the accompaniment of a twitter hashtag, which is, inevitably #DrivingFutureEconomies. This draws attention to work we are doing to help ensure the region's economy is supported by a skilled workforce and energised by cutting edge innovation.

Our work includes technology transformations in some critically important parts of the economy. We work with companies, small to large, to develop new process, products and innovations. For example, we worked with Sheffield's Tinsley Bridge Ltd to develop a novel heat treatment that improves the strength and toughness of their products. We have also worked with Gripple and Rolls Royce.

Our designers, engineers, health and well-being researchers have worked with Sheffield Children’s Hospital on new technologies, including a bespoke face mask for newborn children with breathing difficulties.

The Sheffield Innovation Programme is a regional initiative, stimulating business growth through bringing together SMEs and academia. Providing access to experts and facilities through bespoke research and innovation based consultancy, workshops and events.

Our National Centre for Excellence in Food Engineering, for whom a new building is being constructed at the Olympic Legacy Park, is an important example of the way the university is driving economic futures. As an industry, food is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined.

Our centre will be a national focus for training and development in the industry as well as a catalyst for innovation, forward thinking and problem solving. It undertakes training, development and research to develop new and improved approaches to food manufacture, including challenging problems in the development of lower-salt and lower fat food products. It is at the centre of an expanding network of business, industry groups, academics and engineers, working together to solve specific business challenges.

These practical successes flow from the work of an imaginative university working with partners. These partnerships feed through to every part of the way we work, in research and teaching.

Our students undertake over 25,000 placements with employers every year. We are home to one of the UK’s largest business schools. Sheffield Hallam students offer their skills to local businesses through free consultancy, contributing more than £1.7 million to the regional economy through providing valuable consumer research, product design ideas and marketing solutions.

Our graduates provide expertise to drive the region's economy across a broad range of businesses. Many stay and end up working for companies like WanDisco – now based on the digital campus next door to the university’s city campus – and Sumo Digital who are key players in Sheffield's thriving creative and digital sector.

Successful economies increasingly depend on successful universities, able and willing to drive future economies by linking their research, innovation, teaching and entrepreneurship.