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Why we need a strong global network of technology universities

Published: Fri 26 Aug 2016
Why we need a strong global network of technology universities

Professor Brian Cantor looks at the need for a World Technology Universities Network

The challenges facing the world are complex.  Solutions are required urgently.  Ill-health, poverty, climate change, energy and water supply, food security, industrial development, conflict, migration and terrorism: the 21st century’s problems are difficult, frightening and threatening to us all.

But as well as threats, there are opportunities: opportunities that technological research and the application of technology can exploit to help deliver solutions.  Technology is, broadly, the use of knowledge to improve society, and it is clear that technology universities must play a leading role in meeting our 21st century challenges.

This is why I have invited major technology universities from around the world to the first World Technology Universities Congress, at the University of Bradford, in September.

Universities, and technology universities in particular, can be amongst the greatest forces for progress. Working together and alongside our business and industry partners, we can perhaps create the greatest community for good in the world.

The world student population is approximately 100m and growing at six per cent per year.  The world market for research is on the order of $1.5t, also growing at six per cent per year.  There are approaching 40,000 universities worldwide, most created in the last 20 years, most technology universities, and the number growing rapidly.  Every city wants the economic drive of a successful university, and everybody wants the advantage of a university education.

Technology universities are playing a direct and critical role as creators of wealth and as motors for economic and social change.  Here in Bradford alone we have developed drugs to treat and prevent cancer, we have promoted chemical and biochemical disarmament, and our engineering and healthcare products have saved lives and generated wealth worldwide.  Other technology universities across the world are engaged in similar, inspiring work.  Imagine the power of these universities collaborating actively and jointly deploying their resources, knowledge, teaching and research expertise.

The World Technology Universities Congress will bring together senior members of a wide range of international technology universities, together with business leaders and representatives of other governmental and non-governmental organisations, on the 8th and 9th September in Bradford.  We will be discussing whether and how to set up a continuing World Technology Universities Network, and we will be sharing best practice about collaborative research tackling 21st century problems, how to teach the next generation of world leaders who will have to solve these problems, and how to work most effectively with business and other societal organisations.

What might a World Technology Universities Network mean in practice?  Shared ideas on the application of emerging technologies; worldwide student exchanges with all the knowledge and cultural benefits that brings; pump-priming of collaborative research projects; opportunities for capacity-building with developing countries; joint teaching and research programmes; and identifying and accessing a technological capacity and funding streams that are not be open to us now.

Higher education, research, science and innovation are key drivers of economic growth, which depends on the positive exploitation of knowledge. Education transforms lives and societies, providing the route for technological advancement and social mobility.

By harnessing the combined strength, resource, expertise, experience and knowledge of a network of the world’s great technology universities, we will create a global alliance of the brightest and best, dedicated to making knowledge work for the benefit of society.

It will, of course, take time. These are huge ambitions. But the World Technology Universities Congress will, I believe, mark a significant moment in the development of how universities see their place in the world and will open up a future of immense possibility and capability.

Professor Brian Cantor CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bradford

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