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Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations for the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD), reviews a week of higher education news in which concerns emerged over universities’ financial stability due to Covid-19 and the impact of the crisis on students.
A growing number of higher education conferences and events are being postponed or moved online in response to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Amid predictions that higher education will be changed forever by the current pandemic, Professor James Miller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggests the innovative ways the sector is responding to the crisis will make it even more valued in the future.
The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them, says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.
As a growing number of universities move teaching and assessment online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Derby is holding a virtual conference which aims to support staff in making the transition.
The Office for Students is leaving it up to universities to decide on particular approaches to the Coronavirus pandemic rather than issuing specific guidance, and has promised to minimises its regulatory demands on the sector in response to the crisis.
A study has found substantial differences in degree attainment by students' religion or belief.
A £392 million government investment in the Midlands from the local growth fund to create a "Midlands Engine" has helped the University of Leicester and partners launch plans to develop a National Space Park.
Chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled the Midlands Engine Strategy, which includes an allocation of nearly £13 million to allow the University, in collaboration with Leicester City Council, Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Zone (LLEP) and the National Space Centre, to start work on the Space Park, which will provide a national hub for space research, learning, public engagement and innovation.
Leicester University leaders said the key aims of the National Space Park directly address priorities in the Government’s recently announced Industrial Strategy, including research and development supporting world-leading UK capability in satellite manufacture and use; access to, and analysis of space-enabled data; andskills for UK industry in the form of education and training for the space and related high technology sectors.
Professor Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester said: “It’s great to hear that the government is again backing Leicestershire’s success by investing in our world-class research and development clusters.
“From the life sciences to R&D supporting investment in energy, space and satellite technologies, Leicestershire is emerging at the forefront of UK research. The National Space Park is going to have a huge impact on the city and region – and it will be nationally important.
“Our new project, with a working title of National Space Park, will be a true game changer. It will help us deliver against at least three of the challenges that Government has articulated in their Industrial and Midlands Engine strategies.
“First, drawing on our expertise in space engineering, we will be able to focus on lowering the cost of access to space for satellite systems and improve their instrumentation and potential.
“Second, we will better harness earth observation and other space enabled data for our own challenges here on own our planet, such as supply chain resilience, air quality and of course managing the traffic.
“And, third, with our friends here in the National Space Centre, we will specifically address skills shortages through apprenticeships, professional training and business-focused degrees and internships. Our new venture will create new firms and an estimated 500 jobs for the local economy.”
Professor Iain Gillespie, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Enterprise said: “No project has brought together so many people from across the University, working in concert to deliver a project which is truly important not just to us, or to regional partners, but for the UK’s research ambitions in future. Our work in space science and Earth observation is world-renowned and this announcement demonstrates the importance of our research capability to the world. It will enable us to build new partnerships, explore the commercial and transformative aspects of our research and help us to create opportunities for training future generations of researchers.
“In Leicester we have a fantastic heritage in manufacturing. But we need to make it more high-tech and we have a great opportunity to do that using an old industrial site where- at one point- Leicester was leading the world. We want to lead the world again in high-tech, this time around space, space engineering and space data. It is an amazing opportunity to build not just new high-tech facilities here in Leicester at the National Space Park but to build jobs, to create spin-outs and, with the Dock scheme, to build new businesses and locate them here at the hub of the UK in Leicester.
“For us here in the University of Leicester, this project provide fantastic opportunities, allowing us to take our research expertise, and indeed our teaching expertise, and push that into a skills economy and into the service of economic growth here in our community. This project is an extension of our science, an extension of our educational prowess and, at the same time, the work that is done will be picked up by industry and feed back in there. It will be a virtuous cycle for this university – it really allows us to have even more punch above our weight.”
Leicester said the National Space Park builds on its 50-year-plus record of delivering the science and engineering which has enabled exploration of space to Jupiter and beyond. Working with commercial and research partners, the University will push satellite development and space-enabled data sciences further; opening up new possibilities in global satellite imaging and detection.
The National Space Park will complement government investment in other space clusters including the UK Space Gateway at Harwell, and the newly announced Spaceport opportunities around the UK. In line with government policy, the aim is to replicate the “Harwell effect”, creating new centres of expertise in the downstream space sciences aligned to local “smart specialisations.”
In Leicester, our specialisation is in space-enabled data and Earth observation based at the newly opened Leicester Institute of Space and Earth Observation (LISEO). LISEO brings together the University of Leicester’s space research including astronomy and the planetary sciences with the multidisciplinary work underpinning our Earth observation practice, including researchers working Mathematics, Engineering, Physics, Geology, Geography, Chemistry, Informatics and other subject areas.
Professor Martin Barstow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategic Science Projects and Director of the Leicester Institute of Space & Earth Observation, said: “The National Space Park is a tremendously exciting project for the University, City and region. Building on our 57-year track record of space exploration, it will create a nationally and internationally important space facility that will support a cluster of space businesses alongside research and teaching facilities, making Leicester an important “space city”. It will be an important part of Leicester’s regeneration and contribute to the economic growth of the region with the new, high value jobs that will be created. With its world-leading Institute of Space & Earth Observation, the National Space Park will address the skills gap to support this rapidly growing sector and make Leicester an important force in the future of space exploration.”
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