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Universities are helping to build back after pandemic

This article originally appeared in the Western Mail

Universities and the skills of graduates will have an important role to play in the Covid-19 recovery process, says Professor Julie Lydon, Chair of Universities Wales.

The past year has been an extremely challenging one.

The impact of Covid-19 has been seen in all areas of society, and a wide range of sectors, not just within Wales, but across the UK, have suffered greatly, leading to economic and social damage.

Welsh universities have played a vital role in helping the country respond to the many challenges faced during the pandemic – training frontline workers, supporting local communities, and contributing to world-leading research and innovation.

As we move forward, contributions made by universities and their students through knowledge and skills exchange, partnerships and support for local employers have huge potential to help businesses, industries, and other partners to continue, recover and thrive following the pandemic.

Driving economic recovery

Over the past five years our universities have been helping to build prosperity, putting themselves at the centre of their communities, strengthening Wales’ place on the global stage. And, as the country builds back after the pandemic, this work is set to grow in scale and importance.

Our universities already have a strong track record of working with business and the relationship between business and universities has never been more important than it is today.

From hosting high profile technology hubs, to collaborating with businesses and supporting graduate entrepreneurs, universities support the growth of new sectors of the economy, creating high quality jobs at all levels.

As the workplace continues to evolve, delivering research and innovation activity that generates new businesses, new jobs and new industries will become ever more crucial.

New research published by Universities UK (UUK), ‘Universities and the UK’s economic recovery: an analysis of future impact’, which was compiled by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE), predicts that over the next five years, universities in Wales will:

  • Give 4,000 years’ worth of upskilling and training to businesses and charities.
  • Help 1,300 new businesses and charities to be formed.
  • Be part of regeneration projects worth £536 million to the Welsh economy.

In particular, our universities have a crucial role to play in training the healthcare workers who have played such a pivotal role in the country’s response to the pandemic. In the next five years we will train 10,000 nurses and 4,000 medics, working with the NHS to provide a critical pipeline of talent to help ensure it has the resources it needs to respond to the challenges it faces both now and in the future.

Skills for the future

The skills of graduates will also have an important role to play in the future success of businesses and sectors during the Covid-19 recovery process.

The workplace as we know it is undergoing seismic changes. Digitalisation and automation are advancing at pace, and technologies such as AI and 6G are set to have a significant impact on how workplaces look and operate. These changes will bring new social and economic tests and opportunities as the skills required by employers continue to evolve.

Ensuring Wales makes the most of the opportunities presented will, in large part, depend on our ability to further upskill our population, supporting tens of thousands of workers to adapt to automation and transition to new occupations.

Providing employers and employees with multiple routes to training – such as flexible, part-time learning and degree apprenticeships – will be vital to ensuring Wales’ workforce has the skills it needs to thrive and prosper.

This will only be achievable by developing and advancing dynamic and productive relationships between universities and businesses across Wales.

Bold steps to recovery

Nothing better reflects the speed and resilience with which our universities can respond to challenges than the reaction to the crises presented by Covid-19.

The next five years promise to be equally as challenging. As we emerge from the pandemic, we will have to renew society, drawing on the positives to build new ways of working and living.

Our universities are very much ‘open for business’ and want to develop even closer links with industry, public bodies and charities. Our students, staff, researchers, and graduates have so much to offer, and it is crucial that employers take full advantage of universities’ support and develop productive relationships so the country can bounce back stronger from the pandemic.

By working closely with partners, including local and national government and employers, universities will play a vital role in Wales’ post-pandemic recovery. But these relationships mustn’t be taken for granted. Wales needs robust policy and funding decisions that support universities and businesses to take the bold steps needed to build a successful recovery.

Over the next Senedd term, we look forward to working with Welsh Government to ensure that employers and partners are getting the most out of what our universities can provide.

Together, we can contribute significantly to an inclusive, green and innovative economy, building a future where collaboration and partnership across sectors can drive new growth, innovation and opportunities.