Sharing experiences across borders

Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for New Campus Development

An aerial view of Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus

The past six weeks or so have seen the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus on tour, featuring in debates in Bristol, Brussels and the Netherlands – and visiting comparable university sites in London.

Placemaking was the theme of a session at a recent Built Environment Networking conference in the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads. Given how underused the site and the streets around the new campus are currently, it’s clear we’ll need to make a big effort to create a sense of place and belonging for all who use and visit it. This implies a major emphasis on the way the public spaces on the campus are designed and used so everyone can enjoy them and feel welcome.

This issue was discussed in the session on “The Bristol Transformation: Creating Great Places” at the Watershed during the recent Festival of the Future City. The role of public art and cultural activity in and around the campus was highlighted by Mike Keys, the campus lead architect, and Fabienne Nicholas of Contemporary Art Society, leading on public art strategy for the campus and University more widely. Elsewhere in the Festival, Tom Sperlinger, Joanna Holmes and John Goddard, the guru of civic universities, led a discussion on the role universities should play in their places. It was striking how impressed John was with the pace and quality of progress in Bristol.

Meanwhile on the continent, the University took some of its leading lights in research to Brussels to meet members of the Commission, European funders and research organisation leaders, as well as the UK’s representatives there. Our message was simple: there may be confusion over national EU policy, but Bristol is open for partnership and investment and is making progress in Temple Quarter and elsewhere. It’s clear we need to crack on and make that progress for the benefit of all.

I took a similar message to Dutch colleagues grappling with the role that universities can play in their cities at a conference in Den Bosch – ironically it was held on the day after Brexit was supposed happen. They were keen to hear about how our University had declared a Climate Emergency, was working with our city on the One City Plan and is building partnerships to create value for all. Their invitation followed a major delegation visit to Bristol in February – they clearly feel something interesting and important is happening here.

Since then, we have been to see our university peers’ major developments in London – Imperial College’s White City Campus, UAL’s Central Saint Martin’s college and UCL’s at Here East and the Olympic Park. While these are impressive, we sensed we had something both distinctive and highly competitive to offer in Temple Quarter. Combining real local community participation in research, innovation and education, the world-leading capabilities the University brings and the powerful commitment of government and industry is special and potent – and is great to see happening in Bristol.

Why students need an innovative mindset

By Professor Kirsten Cater, Academic Director Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Students at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

With 5.7 million small business in the UK and more than 1,000 new start-ups every single day, it’s critical that our students are prepared for this competitive environment. And this doesn’t mean starting the conversation when they graduate – students should be in this frame of mind from day one and build the skills needed for the ever-changing workplace.

Many employers argue that graduates’ skills don’t always match the ones they’re looking for, and this gap can be an intimidating barrier for those leaving university. Education should be a pathway that naturally leads students into the workplace. Aligning courses with longer-term skills, including having an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset, is critical to the success of our graduates and the organisations they work for or the enterprises they create.

Mindset + knowledge = innovation

Our multi-award-winning Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s mission is to graduate the next generation with the adaptability, agility, interdisciplinary and innovative thinking to reflect the changing world of employment and modern society. They’ll be equipped to tackle complex problems by collaborating across traditional boundaries and disciplines. Our first-of-their-kind degrees bring students together from 14 different disciplines (including computer science, anthropology, history, geography and theatre) to study innovation and entrepreneurship alongside their subject specialism.

At the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship we also do things differently, we need to be innovative and entrepreneurial ourselves – living and breathing what we teach. We’re not teaching “traditional” subjects, so we can’t teach in a “traditional” way – we deliver innovative pedagogical approaches. We hold sessions in a studio-based learning environment and give our students real-world inter-disciplinary challenges. Our centre encourages students to be creative, be innovative, take risks, work in teams and share ideas openly with each other – learning how to take those ideas forward together into start-up enterprises.

“I was intrigued and excited by the University of Bristol’s own innovative thinking in establishing these degree courses. Having spent a day immersed with the staff and students, and after giving a lecture and workshop, I’m hugely impressed by the potential to inspire and encourage world change makers to think new thoughts; to fail, learn and iterate and to develop the people with the creativity and resilience our 21st century society and economy cries out for. It shows Bristol continues to lead in the relevance, variety and application of its courses and support.” Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen

Collaboration is key and we don’t just empower students to work with their peers. The centre is host to many of our external partners and a network of investors ready to support ideas – and these relationships are at the heart of what we do.

Successful innovation doesn’t stop here

World number one university business incubator SETsquared and enterprise hub Engine Shed are already driving new ways of thinking in business and inclusive growth across the region. And University of Bristol spin-out Ziylo was recently bought by a global healthcare company in a deal worth around $800million. Our students can see this success firsthand and learn from others’ experiences.

Vassilis Seferedis, CEO and Founder of Zetta Networks says, “My advice to an entrepreneur, especially a technology entrepreneur, is to focus on understanding and communicating the business problem that you’re solving. There can be a temptation, particularly for academics, to be distracted by interesting technology rather than the application of technology to solve problems. If you can understand the business problem you are solving, can explain that to the end-user and quantify the value of what you do, you will stand out from your peers.”

This culture of collaboration and innovation will form the core of our new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, which will be home to the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. At the new campus, enterprise and community partners will come together under the same roof as our students and researchers to work to build a better future.

“It’s imperative that young people are given access to the skills and experiences to help raise awareness of future opportunities and to engage them with the workplace at a young age. In collaboration with Engine Shed’s Diverse Workforce for the Future project, SETsquared Bristol has provided educational sessions with the most innovative tech start-ups that are growing their businesses at SETsquared. We look forward to being involved with new opportunities that the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will provide, linking enterprise, learning and community in Bristol.” Monika Radclyffe, Centre Director of SETsquared Bristol

Professor Kirsten Cater is speaking at Bristol Technology Showcase on Friday 8 November about Technology, People and Change – Building the workforce for the Future.

Use or be used: Skills, technology and the future of work

By Dr Frederick Harry Pitts, Lecturer in Management at University of Bristol

When people imagine the future of work, their minds often jump to AI replacing jobs and machines taking over the world – leaving humans in an age of widespread unemployment. But in reality, automation is more likely to replace individual tasks within jobs than the jobs themselves.

Indeed, we already coexist with machine learning in the workplace using everyday processes like predictive text. This shows the future of work lies more in the augmentation of human labour with technology than its replacement by it.

This augmentation could alienate workers, rendering them what Marx called the mere ‘appendages of machines’. But it could also liberate and empower them to apply their skills and knowledge to the active control and mastery of technology.

Far from something that arises naturally and automatically, technology is a human creation subject to the social and political conditions in which it’s developed. But, without workers’ freedom to wield power over the tools and devices they use in their work, these conditions often mean new technologies can take on a life of their own.

Whilst policymakers and commentators get caught up in grand schemes to adapt to robotised worklessness or fully automated luxury, a more urgent imperative goes overlooked. This is the need to regulate and organise the world of work as it stands now, in order to bend technology to our will rather than the reverse.

Empower, not dominate

This centres on skill. We might think of skill as the capacity to control and shape the world around us. Whilst it’s popular to speak of skill as ‘talent’, this isn’t true – as the term might suggest, it’s not something innate, but something learned.

Economic, social, political and cultural contextual factors can impact the learning conditions necessary to attain skill. And just as technology adoption and implementation is influenced by these factors, so too is investment in the skills to use it.

Several factors impact employers’ and governments’ decisions to invest in the skills needed to thrive in a technological world of work. From wages and contractual conditions to wider political-economic, regulatory and legal structures, these environments often add to the challenge.

Where precarious, low-pay work arrangements are the norm, as they are in the UK today, there’s little incentive for employers to invest in the technology to make that work better and more productive. Specifically, developing the skills necessary for workers to experience technology as an empowering rather than dominating force.

Whether a warehouse, an office or an Uber, new technology being imposed to manage workers in a workplace often goes hand in hand with a ‘wild west’ regulatory regime. And this is unlikely to have any sense of longevity or commitment on the part of employers or employees.

This culture leaves little basis around which workers and employers can share in the gains of greater productivity – whether that’s through skills, training, better pay or terms and conditions.

Somewhere in the augmentation of human labour by technology, there’s a real opportunity for a new mission of skilful mastery that turns technology to human purposes. This can’t be achieved through the supply of skills in education alone. There are wider political-economic constraints on the capacity to innovate and develop that need addressing at other levels.

What’s the solution?

Increases in minimum wages may help. This would force employers to seek more from workers at the bottom end of the labour market and invest in productivity-raising technologies and the skills to use them. But this could have unintended consequences. Although employers might gain in profits, workers won’t necessarily have an equal gain in skills – or a fair share in the benefits of greater productivity.

Rather than tweaks to pay alone, the best solutions rest in the legal and regulatory environment of work. Increase in trade union membership and collective bargaining would help grant workers the voice to protect themselves against rapid change. This could also drive wages upwards and incentivise investment by employers at the same time.

By forcing employers’ hands to the fire with increases in wages and bargaining power, this could help replicate some of the gains of the twentieth-century industrial compromise. This was when managers and workers had a shared interest in increasing levels of productivity in workplaces.

At the time, the interest was much more likely to be based on skilled, secure and fulfilling work where humans used technology to their ends. It is, however, the reverse that’s the reality of work for too many today.

It’s too often the case that the human power to shape the world around us slips by the wayside in discussions of technology. The latter is commonly presented as developing autonomously, with skills shifting passively in response.

We are constrained by conditions that are ever-changing – and not always of our choosing. But skill is the measure of our ability to bend technology and the wider world to our purposes and determine the direction it takes. It is up to us to use it – or be used ourselves.

Dr Harry Pitts is speaking at RSA Bristol: Future of Work on Thursday 7 November. The text is based on a talk given at Millennifest Bristol. Millennifest’s organisers, the thinktank Common Vision, will also be publishing a version of this blog.