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The Future of Universities: The future of research

Dr Richard Hutchins, Director of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG)

Published in June 2013

What’s next for universities? With the sector diversifying into online learning, not to mention the many varied opportunities offered by further and higher education colleges, it’s become harder to say what a university will look like in the future. In March 2013, leading academics and experts, organisations, and international student leaders at Warwick Universities Summit 2013 tackled the issue of universities in 2025. Speakers from across the sector discussed topics such as funding and widening access, and what the value of the global public university should be in a rapidly developing world. Here, Dr Richard Hutchins from the University of Warwick shares his thoughts.

Students with a robot

If the future of the higher education is virtual (as every blog and newspaper article about MOOCs would have you believe), does the success of WMG (using the Fraunhofer model) contradict this?

I’m not entirely convinced that going ‘totally virtual’ is the way forward, because there are huge advantages to companies, academics and students working side-by-side and sparking off each other. Secondly the fact that for this type of industrial research, where we work with companies in the manufacturing and advanced engineering sector, it inevitably requires people to have access to physical kit and technology. So I think there is a strong case to co-locate facilities that allow for all of those things to happen.

How would you asses the current state of the UK’s higher education sector’s relationships with business (and therefore economic growth) compared to the rest of the world?

I don’t think there is any doubt that the UK is right up there when it comes to higher education collaboration with industry. It’s the only way to go because we cannot rely on the government, public sector and the public purse to fund higher education research and teaching in the future in the way that it has done in the past. So we have to make our research and our teaching more applicable to the real world; the only way to do that is to connect it to the market place, which is working with industry and working with countries. All of the countries that are shooting up in terms of economic growth clearly connect universities with business or connect business with universities. China, most notably, where companies effectively sponsor universities and the development of universities. We see a number of collaborations of that type in Beijing.

Warwick issued a formal declaration on higher education to the G8 at the time of the Global Universities Summit blog. If you could get one commitment from the summit of world leaders related to higher education that would benefit the sector, what would that be?

We need to be promoting the freer exchange of students and knowledge across international boundaries. When it comes down to things like that, it means student visas; it means free exchange of intellectual property. Not all easy things to do but things which will undoubtedly help to unlock economic growth in all nations.


For more from the Knowledge Centre's Global Universities Summit blog, which focussed on the issues in higher education ahead of the 2013 Global University Summit, please click here.

The Global University Summit 2013 was hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London.

Image: WMG Robot Team, April 2013. Source: (University of Warwick)


Richard HutchinsDr Richard Hutchins is responsible for leading WMG's interface and work with Jaguar Land Rover, including support for JLR's Government Affairs and Government Programmes teams. Leading the development of the WMG Academy for Young Engineers. Leading our work with Local Enterprise Partnerships. He is a non-executive director of WMMC (Manufacturing Advisory Service).