Former Sheffield City polytechnic officially became Sheffield Hallam University in 1992 following government legislation and in its 25th anniversary year vice chancellor, Professor Chris Husbands, looks to its future.
Universities have never been more important to more people than they are today. They have become more important to individuals, societies and nations and it’s not surprising that this should be the case. We live in a world where knowledge is the new currency, where workplaces are becoming more complex and where problems require application of cross-cutting insights for their resolution, so we shouldn’t expect universities’ importance to be diminished any time soon.
This is a university which has been at the core of the profound transformation of Sheffield from an industrial economy to a post-industrial economy.
If the role of universities in meeting practical challenges for society is now almost commonplace in university strategic plans and language of university leaders, it’s something Hallam has been doing for a very long time.
We were established in 1843 as the Sheffield School of Design on Glossop Road and later became the School of Art. We developed in the late 19th century with a number of other institutions including the teacher training colleges at Collegiate Campus and technical colleges.
Those institutions coalesced into the Sheffield City Polytechnic in 1969, becoming one of the country’s strongest and most influential polytechnics. University status in 1992 embedded the contribution of the polytechnic and has allowed us to grow, to diversify, and to extend our influence.
In 1992 we had 18,000 students; we are now a fully comprehensive university educating more than 30,000 students from more than 100 countries around the world, contributing more than £400m a year to the city’s economy. That is an incredible transformation by any standard.
Twenty-five years after we acquired University status, in our silver jubilee year, we are in a very strong position to further extend our influence and stretch our ambition regionally, nationally and internationally.
Some of the ways in which we will do that going forward are already well known. The Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) will be the most sophisticated centre for health and wellbeing research in the world.
We’ve established South Yorkshire Futures, a genuinely innovative engagement between a university and schools and colleges in its region to raise standards and broaden aspirations.
We have also become a leading provider of degree apprenticeships, closing the gap between higher education and work-based training which will enable us to extend our influence with employers.
Over the next two to three years I expect further innovations as we extend the scope of our strategic plan which puts our influence on the city, the region, the world at the core of what we do.
This is going to matter more and more as higher education grows and expands. The universities that succeed will be the ones that are most convincingly able to draw together the quality of what they do with the distinctiveness of what they offer.
We’ll need to be bold and confident in the way that we approach that because if the opportunities for higher education are enormous, so are the challenges.
The challenges we can foresee over the next few years – from Brexit, to securing a long-term sustainable funding model, to securing outstanding outcomes for all our students, to meeting the ever increasing expectations our students and society have of us – will mean that we need to be even more successful than we have been in the past.
But we are no stranger to overcoming challenges: we’ve done it several times. This is a University which has been at the core of the profound transformation of Sheffield from an industrial to a post-industrial economy. This is not a challenge unique to Sheffield but one that has been navigated, with varying degrees of success, in great industrial cities around the world. In 1976, 45,000 people in Sheffield worked in the steel industry and there were 4,000 students in the city. Today, proportions are reversed 60,000 students and 4,000 people working in the steel industry. That’s an extraordinary transformation over a relatively short space of time. It means the role of the universities in the regional economy is absolutely essential and imposes an obligation on us to meet the challenges facing the city and region. We are now undertaking work, including through degree apprenticeships to train the workforce of the future and help the region to plug higher level skills gaps in sectors that continue to grow and support the economy including engineering and digital skills.
My ambition is that Hallam, already a good university with solid foundations become a genuinely great university, established as a beacon for what universities can do for their students, their communities and beyond if they genuinely engage with practical challenges and finding achievable solutions to them. That’s what I mean when I talk about the University being the world’s leading applied university.
If you come out of the railway station, the first thing you see rising up out of the city is Sheffield Hallam – it’s at the core of the city and this region. If you come out of the railway station in 25 years’ time, or indeed the high-speed rail station, I want you to see a university which looks, feels and is confident in its mission.
I have no doubt we can achieve that ambition.