December 12 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, September 28, 2013
With the building blocks of success laid in the first 50 years of the University of East Anglia’s history, reporter David Freezer asks how the UEA intends to build on that success in the next 50 years.
One of the big examples of what the future could hold for the UEA in its next 50 years is the Norwich Research Park Enterprise Centre – which is intended to be the UK’s greenest commercial building.
Norwich City Council’s planning committee voted unanimously to approve the NRP Enterprise Centre (above) in May of this year and construction work is due to be completed in early 2015.
The £8m building is set to be the first commercial scheme to achieve both Passivhaus and Breeam Outstanding ratings and intends to be an “almost nil carbon building”.
It will minimise its carbon footprint by using timber from Thetford, wheat thatch from Starston and north Norfolk reed, chalk, lime and flint as part of the redevelopment of Earlham Hall, within the UEA grounds.
The UEA’s vice-chancellor Professor Edward Acton feels the building represents the kind of innovation that Norwich Research Park – of which the UEA is one of the partners – can bring to Norfolk.
“It will be the Norwich Research Park Enterprise Centre, which is another good example of collaboration with our partners,” Prof Acton said.
“It will be constructed in an extraordinarily low carbon way, it will be an absolutely exemplar building in Britain and its very name is trying to say, in one term, that the university is interested in generating more upmarket, high quality economic activity.
“It will be getting our students to think more and more entrepreneurially in the best sense of the word, not necessarily widgets and gadgets but thinking of ways of adapting their skills to what is needed by the market.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on that still but I think the Enterprise Centre will be almost a symbol of that, a thing they’re labelling as a hatchery so that even undergraduates can think about what they will do when they graduate.”
Accolades and league table successes have continued to roll in for the University of East Anglia in recent years.
Today, the UEA campus is expected to be packed out for its 50th Anniversary Festival, with a host of activities and events on offer.
But on the eve of those celebrations the UEA’s vice-chancellor Professor Edward Acton has set out how the UEA intends to maintain its impressive current standings.
In April, the UEA was named the number one place in the UK to be a student by the Times Higher Education magazine and just last week it achieved its highest position in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, rising to 17th place. “Reputation is critical,” Prof Acton said. “The more you can project just what an intellectual powerhouse this is, the more people want to come and work here and study here.
“Reputation is a self-fulfilling virtue and a lot of the accolades the university has been receiving I expect to play a very big role in driving it further in the coming period.”
As already reported this week, the UEA is worth an estimated £150 million a year to the local economy and the cultural and educational benefits of its success have also received high praise. Prof Acton first arrived at the UEA in 1991 as a professor of modern history. He was appointed dean of the School of History in 1999, and served as pro-vice-chancellor (academic) between 2004 and 2009, when he was appointed vice-chancellor.
He is on the board of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and says he and his colleagues are aware of the importance of the UEA to the general health of the region. Prof Acton continued: “The people who founded UEA aspired for the intellectual quality to be international but for it to really make an impact on Norfolk and Suffolk, and I think that is deep in our DNA now, we want to do both.
“I think there are a number of things I would say we have done. The first would be the people we educate, the alumni, a lot of the professions are fed from the UEA around here in health, in education, in law and across the piste. But, in addition, economically the university has grown its significance and now has a turnover of over £200 million.
“It has over 3,000 direct employees but its business of bringing thousands upon thousands of young people to the region for the bulk of the academic year, with a very large spend themselves in all kinds of activities off-campus, is a huge boon.” Prof Acton points to the establishment of the School of Economic Sciences as being one of the most “distinctive contributions” in the UEA establishing its scientific reputation, leading to its various research institutes taking on national importance and the formation of Norwich Research Park.
“Now you have all this park, a research capacity which is about the fourth in Britain and of huge national and international significance, bringing in scientists, bringing more and more research awards and additional spend in the region,” Prof Acton said.
“Additionally, creative writing, which is probably the second most famous thing for which UEA is renowned, has established Norwich as such a hub for writers that many of the best novelists come year after year to launch their books, to give presentations, and a great many now live in Norfolk.
“We’ve had the great honour of one of our own alumni and creative writing stars, Rose Tremain, taking on the chancellorship, and a real affirmation of that is Norwich becoming England’s (UNESCO) City of Literature, which would have been unthinkable without the UEA being here, I think, for the reputation of the place and the cultural quality.”
Staff at the university are all too aware that international status brings closer scrutiny with it though, as proved by the Climategate scandal of 2009, when the world’s media had its eyes fixed on the UEA after the hacking of emails at its Climate Research Centre.
The security breach was reported to Norfolk Constabulary in November 2009, after the data was leaked online just weeks before a major climate change summit in Copenhagen.
The data was seized on by climate change sceptics who claimed it showed man-made global warming was a conspiracy by scientists.
However, the criminal investigation was ended in July 2012 after a three-year limit on proceedings was reached. “That it (Climategate) could be quite so controversial showed that UEA really was a place that was playing a role of enormous international importance,” Prof Acton reflected.
“Plainly there’s a lot more we want to do about international reputation, but being firmly in the top 20 and having a number of very high profile, prestigious international collaborations is key.
“The best known is with Fudan University in Shanghai, primarily around climate change but absolutely vital in making sure that the West and China, as China becomes more and more important, understand each other’s thinking on this huge challenge facing us and making sure we benefit as Chinese research takes off, which it is. So yes, I do think our international reputation is growing and I think when our successors have these conversations in 10 years, it will be markedly greater.”