Following in the tradition of some of the University greats the University of Birmingham last week launched its Institute of Advanced Studies. The concept behind these is that they are cross disciplinary approaches; pulling on expertise from across a University to focus on specific issues.
The IAS is going in the first 18 months to be focussing on two themes. The first theme which was launched last week is Regeneration Economies: Transforming People, Place and Production. This is to be lead jointly between John Bryson from the Business School and Lauren Andres from the School of Geography. The second theme is to focus on .Saving Humans: Risk, Intervention, Survival. This will be launched later this year.
The following video outlines the ambitions of the Regeneration Economies theme, from the creative and digital sector, from a skills approach, from SME’s as a bedrock, from new technology and its impact and from a climate change and resilience viewpoint.
What is really interesting about this theme is that not only is it cross disciplinary but it is also transnational as it will be teaming up with the University of Illinois, based in Chicago to look at a comparative approach to understanding regional economies. It promises a completely new and holistic approach and some of this thinking is definitely coming from Chicago. The following presentation from Geoffrey Hewings illustrates the comprehensive approach to be taken.
John Bryson illustrated the sub themes of research notably
- Regeneration Economies
- The Impact of New Technologies
- A Skills and SME focus
He stressed the need for the research to be constructive and critical. Presentation (download here)
So why is this important. The term constructive is vital. Certainly Birmingham and the region need answers to some very pressing issues.
Yesterday whilst it was announced that unemployment fell slightly in Birmingham the really poor state of aspects of Birmingham’s economy was highlighted in this statistical update on Unemployment from Birmingham City Council (download here). and this wider update on Birmingham’s economy (download here)
Unemployment is higher in Birmingham than any other Core City in England at 10.7%. This is higher than Liverpool which for many decades was seen to be the city with the biggest problems, and in Ladywood constituency it rises to over 22%.
What is equally shocking is the declining employment rate in the city. Only approximately 57% of working age population is in employment; a full 15 percentage points below the UK average. This in human terms is shocking but in economic terms is a real waste of talent and resource that could, if harnessed, really improve the economic well being of the city. This is at a time when businesses are starting to report skills shortages in the West Midlands. A Centre for Cities report picks this issue up (download here). Something is broken and we need to know how to fix it.
At the other end of the regeneration spectrum recent statistical analysis by the European Union which I report on here, places the West Midlands along with the North East as the least Innovative region in England. We need answers to how we can change this situation. We are for instance significantly under performing in terms of levels of expenditure in public and private research and development. Now the University of Birmingham has recently reported on its Economic Impact but in this brief (and admittedly partial) analysis I undertook (here) I raise issues about how well it either reports on its innovation activity or how well it is actually achieving. So a critical but constructive approach may be needed closer to home than the academics might have initially thought.
So this work is vital for the city and the region. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and Birmingham City Council is making good progress in some areas. This report details early progress on the Enterprise Zone (plus other zones in Birmingham) (download here and presentation here) but the LEP will soon be given control possibly of over £100m of EU monies and shortly after that significant amounts of Heseltine Single pot monies. We collectively need to know what we should spent these resources on. Where we will get more bang for our bucks and the University along with others in the city and region need to fully engage in developing these spending plans and equally show what they are doing to maximise their impact.