A few weeks ago I found myself driving up the M5, destination Warwick University. I was going to take part in a unique experiment: an extended discussion over several days about the future of engineering and tech education in this country.
Those taking part included engineers, technology specialists and educators from Warwick, from Bristol University, from Olin College in the USA and from Quest University in Canada, as well as key companies like Airbus and Siemens.
They discussed what should go in a 21st century engineering and tech curriculum; how these subjects should be taught; how to recruit more students, and especially women, into engineering; the role of arts and design education in engineering; team-building; campus design; corporate-university ties, and a host of other things.
And why were they there? Because of the new Herefordshire University project. Because the project’s leaders Karen Usher and David Sheppard and a host of volunteers and supporters around the county have a vision for engineering and tech education. And because they are determined to make it happen in Herefordshire.
It’s all too easy to knock the British manufacturing economy, and there have been plenty of doomsters and gloomsters around over the years to do so. Yes, the service sector has outstripped manufacturing, especially over the last thirty years. But the fact is that UK remains one of the largest manufacturing countries in the world.
Not only that, but the government has a clear industrial strategy: to support value-added manufacturing and services. That’s why sectors from the advanced automotive supply chain to basic science to specialised semiconductors are booming.
Even so, as a country we need more and better engineers, and we will continue to need them for decades. That’s why there is such an opportunity for us in Herefordshire: to rethink the nature and purpose of such an education, and to establish a national or even world-class new university focusing on these areas.
We have a beautiful county packed with engineering and tech specialists of different kinds; we are located close to research centres in Malvern and Cheltenham; we have a cathedral city just waiting for the social and economic energy which a university will bring; we have thousands of young people who deserve the chance to study locally.
If we can pull this off, it will be the most transformative project for this county since Hereford Cathedral was built. So let’s make it happen.