Investing for Prosperity in the Centre of the Arc
When thinking about the Oxford-Cambridge Arc’s scientific and technological potential, a lot of people understandably tend to focus on the two cities which bookend the region. I believe that is a mistake.
To truly tap into the full potential of the Arc, it is vital that we drive investment across the whole region and work collaboratively to fuse together all of its key towns and cities. Towns like Milton Keynes, Bedford, Cranfield, and Northampton are now some of the fastest growing centres for R&D in the UK, and home to ground-breaking innovation in areas ranging from cyber security and data analytics to driverless cars and autonomous drone delivery.
At Santander UK we believe passionately in the potential of the Arc, and that’s why we pledged a substantial financial commitment in 2019 to MK:U, Milton Keynes’ forward-thinking institute for higher education backed by Cranfield University, committing to the revolution in digital skills that will be indispensable to our future high-tech society. Alongside this, we have also invested £150m into a purpose-built headquarters in Milton Keynes, recognising the city’s position as Europe’s leading Smart City, its growing population of well-educated young people, and its great potential as a place for our colleagues to live and work.
The centre of the Arc links great universities and public enterprise with local businesses and a global pool of talent, and from this vantage point it is ideally placed to bring together the various types of innovation that thrive across the region. Innovation in the centre of the Arc gives competitive advantage to the UK as a whole, and factors strongly into the government’s ambition to level up regional economies.
It’s also a region where we should be cultivating homegrown skills, too. Despite the wealth of human capital in the Arc, we continue to face a real lack of technical skills across the economy in areas such as data science, analytics and cyber security. These skills are increasingly needed by all businesses in the UK, regardless of the sector they operate in. To address this, we will need real public, private and academic collaboration.
The Arc is a perfect place in which to develop these skills, as it is home to a vast number of innovative businesses, both large and small, as well as playing host to a number of globally renowned universities.
It’s crucially important that businesses invest in the higher education system, supporting these institutions in developing courses that deliver the skills that employers will need in the future. With the right investment and skills, the centre of the Arc can match the wealth and prosperity of Oxford and Cambridge.
To do this, Santander has collaborated with MK:U to launch a business focused degree apprenticeship scheme, enabling colleagues to pursue a Cranfield BSc degree at MK:U whilst working. My intention is that this will give young people a chance to gain experience in the workplace, while providing an education focused on solving real problems that can be applied to an increasingly digital business like Santander.
It is also a crucial way for Santander to be able to invest in colleagues, enabling them to retrain on the job while supporting the retention of good people in a competitive job market. It makes sense to develop a university like MK:U in the centre of the Arc, as the technical skills it provides to students will be of use to businesses across the entire region and the wider UK.
More fundamentally, universities need to collaborate with employers to ensure we are getting the right skills to tackle tomorrow’s problems. The development of an outcomes-focused university like MK:U allows business and academia to work together to invest in our talent locally as part of the triple helix approach that underpins the Arc concept. This is an important issue that goes beyond Santander and MK:U – the lesson we need to learn from this collaboration is that the UK will thrive if different parts of the country succeed. It is far healthier for the regional economies of the UK if we can invest in human capital and retain it within regions, and to do this we must not just create opportunity, but also a thriving environment and community around clusters like Milton Keynes.