The cathedral city of Hereford might not seem the obvious place to locate a state-of-the-art engineering university. Situated just 16 miles from the Welsh border in the rural West of England, it is a long way from the UK’s traditional manufacturing heartlands.
But the picturesque city of around 60,000 people, mostly associated with the livestock and cider-making industries, is the ideal place for a new technology university, insists the group of about 25 local businesspeople and academics behind the enterprise.
The New Model in Technology and Engineering, which aims to open in 2017, will be located in the middle of a cluster of small- and medium-sized manufacturing businesses thriving in Herefordshire, the group says.
These firms make products related to the food and farming industries, renewable energy and defence (a major long-term employer in the county thanks to the presence of several military bases there, including the 18th Signals Regiment and the Special Air Service).
“All these companies are suffering from a lack of engineers,” says David Sheppard, one of the leaders of the Herefordshire Tertiary Education Trust, which is trying to raise £20 million for the project.
The new institution would provide the highly skilled workforce required by these companies if they are to expand, he adds.
“I have lived in the North East, so I have seen the impact of Newcastle, Durham, Teesside and Cumbria universities, which have transformed the area’s commercial prospects,” he says. “Just look at what has happened to Lincoln since the university moved there.”
This is no pipe dream of well-meaning town burghers keen to boost their local economy: the institution has won serious backing, and is currently in discussions with the University of Warwick about the awarding of its degrees and the University of Bristol has pledged the involvement of its staff.
Chancellor George Osborne has backed the project, too, tweeting on 12 February that he “will support development of major new uni in Hereford”. He added that he had asked Greg Clark, the universities minister, to look into it.
However, whether the Osborne tweet will lead to the investment the university needs or was simply a pre-election favour to his Tory colleague Jesse Norman, the MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, remains to be seen.
It is certainly the case that UK funding councils and the government are not dishing out the £10 million-£20 million grants they did 10 years ago to tackle so-called higher education “cold spots”.
Some may also question whether it is feasible to start an engineering university – let alone a research-intensive one, as the Herefordshire Tertiary Education Trust hopes – given the expensive equipment and buildings required to teach the discipline.
The university will require at least £50 million by the end of the decade if it is to meet its target of 4,000 students.
Karen Usher, a local businesswoman and co-leader of the project, believes it can be done, citing the case of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Olin, a small private university in Massachusetts founded in 1997 and accredited 10 years later, has quickly established a strong reputation for hands-on engineering teaching.
She hopes that the institution will emulate Olin’s approach, in which students undertake research-based projects in their final year, often winning jobs at top US companies.
“Olin is now recognised as one of the leading teachers of engineering in the world and its graduates are earning $15,000 to $20,000 [£10,200 to £13,600] a year more than the national average for engineering graduates, as reported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers,” she says.
The Hereford initiative is seeking support from the UK government, the European Union and philanthropic donors, although it would do well to match the nearly $500 million endowment that made Olin possible.
£20m – the sum targeted by the New Model’s backers to make the university a reality
University of Glasgow
Creating affordable handheld video cameras that can record beyond the visible spectrum is on the agenda for a £ million centre at the University of Glasgow. QuantIC, the Quantum Imaging Centre, hopes to commercialise cameras built with quantum technology. Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University and the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Oxford and Strathclyde are collaborating on the project.
Alan Milburn has been installed as chancellor of Lancaster University. The former Labour health secretary, a Lancaster graduate, is chair of the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and runs his own consultancy, advising governments and corporations across the world. Mr Milburn said that Lancaster “is punching far above its weight”, a performance that could allow it to fulfil its ambition to become one of the world’s top 100 universities.
A Welsh university is leading a project to drill nearly 300m beneath a dried-up Ethiopian lake to uncover how climate change has influenced human evolution and migration. The Chew Bahir Drilling Project, led by Aberystwyth University, will provide a sedimentary record of rainfall, temperature and vegetation changes spanning the past 500,000 years, close to where the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils have been found.
Bucks New University
A renowned animator who worked on films such as The Lion King and Paddington is to launch a UK university course. Alex Williams will lead a master’s degree in 3D animation at Bucks New University. Beginning in September, the distance-learning course will be taught by lecturers who have worked on movies including the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia. Mr Williams said the degree was needed because 30 per cent of animation employers report skills gaps among their existing staff.
University of Nottingham
An East Midlands institution is researching a mobile phone app to identify babies born prematurely in the developing world. Researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Division of Child Health, Obstetrics and Gynaecology and its School of Computer Science have won a $100,000 (£66,000) grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop technology that will identify premature babies who may need urgent medical care. The app will identify distinctive features on newborns’ feet, face and ears to more accurately estimate their gestation periods.
Norwich University of the Arts
A year-long programme of events has been launched to mark a higher education institution’s 170-year history. Norwich University of the Arts kicked off the celebrations by installing a high-definition outdoor digital projector in the heart of the city, which displayed artwork by its past and present students. The institution, granted university title in 2012, started life as the Norwich School of Design in 1845.
Imperial College London
The drive to cut NHS spending has led to a fall in some non-essential medical procedures but not others. Imperial College London researchers have found that cataract removal, hysterectomies in response to heavy menstrual bleeding and myringotomies to relieve eardrum pressure have fallen since 2011. However, other “low-value” procedures remain untouched. The researchers called for clearer guidelines to help NHS trusts decide where to cut.
King’s College London
Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, has witnessed the signing of an academic partnership between his country’s largest higher education institution and a London-based university. King’s College London and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which has more than 300,000 students, will strengthen their academic ties under the deal, signed during Mr Peña Nieto’s state visit to the UK this month. King’s will also take the lead in coordinating a visiting scholars programme involving both countries.