The EU and its contribution to the excellence of UK universities

26 August 2015

By Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia.

 The University of East Anglia (UEA) has just opened its new Enterprise Centre on the Norwich Research Park, enabled by a £6m grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The Enterprise Centre is opening as the debate over the UK's continued membership of the European Union develops.  It serves as a timely reminder of how the EU contributes to the excellence of UK universities.

Built predominantly from locally sourced renewable materials, the Passivhaus and BREEAM Outstanding building that houses the Enterprise Centre is one of the lowest carbon buildings on any university campus in Europe. The Centre will serve to stimulate student enterprise and entrepreneurship and to provide a home for low carbon businesses.

In the case of the Enterprise Centre, ERDF is being used to help small and medium sized enterprises respond to the challenges of climate change and the huge commercial potential behind a low carbon economy.

Over the last few years, the Low Carbon Innovation Fund - a venture capital fund housed within the Enterprise Centre - has supported the growth of over 50 low carbon businesses through £20m of funding provided by the ERDF. This has attracted around £35m of matched investment.

Global impact

A significant proportion of the research that will underpin enterprise development and associated local economic growth at UEA is also supported by European funding, with some £16 million currently supporting around 60 different projects involving over 400 partners. The impact of this work is evident with, for example, 25% of our highest rated 3* (internationally excellent) and 4* research impact case studies for REF2014 arising from EU collaborations.

UEA is recognised globally for its work on climate change, which has benefitted from extensive EU support. This includes a current award of around €2m from the European Research Council to fund a five-year project that will predict how the Arctic will cope with global warming.

EU funding also frequently supports interactions between universities and the business community. UEA, for example, is the lead partner in the €9m 'AQUAVALENS' healthy water consortium which brings together 39 partners from small and medium sized businesses, universities and research institutes to protect European citizens from contaminated water.

Projects like this serve to illustrate how EU-funded programmes have a truly global impact, and so give UK research much wider international reach. Indeed, UEA's EU-supported projects draw in around 60 non-EU, 'international' partners.

We see our engagement with, and funding from, the EU as a key component of our long term strategy both in terms of collaboration and in terms of recruitment (10% of UEA's students and staff are from the rest of the EU). And we see the UK's leadership within the EU as an essential ingredient for excellent research in the UK.

Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, will be discussing the value of EU collaboration at an event in Cambridge on Thursday 24 September 2015 entitled: Excellent Research in the UK: Do we need the EU?

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