As one of Wales’ leading higher education institutions, Cardiff Metropolitan University plays a crucial role in the country’s economic life.
In the wake of the worst shock to the nation’s economy for generations, that role will assume even greater importance in the next few years.
Professor Cara Aitchison, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff Met, is full of confidence about the university’s ability to contribute to Wales’ recovery. There are five ways in particular, she feels, in which Cardiff Met can make a rapid and vital contribution.
Cardiff School of Technologies
Launched just two years ago, Cardiff Met’s School of Technologies has proved popular with student recruits and is already turning out its first graduates. Students leaving the school have the skills employers need, and will need in even greater supply in the years to come as the economy recovers and rebuilds. The School specialises in digital technology, data science, design technology and systems engineering; all the areas that are clustering in South Wales and that are going to be a real engine house for the economy.
Besides the graduates now leaving the School and looking for their first jobs in industry, there are also students still at the university who want to work with employers while they’re doing their degree. Whether employers need people with new skills, or additional support to get new technology in place, Cardiff Met can help them.
Academia is renowned for people working in silos and ivory towers, and not connecting very effectively with industry. Cardiff Met has tried to tackle that phenomenon by drawing together different disciplines into University-wide Global Academies in areas where it thinks it can make an immediate impact, often at an international level but also across Wales.
Cardiff Met identified three areas where it could draw together people from across the university to work with industry to help push economic development forward. One of the Global Academies is focused on the strength that Cardiff Met already has in food science, food safety and food security. Food businesses are among those that have been most severely impacted by the pandemic, but they also have the ability to get back on their feet pretty quickly. Cardiff Met is keen to help industry recover, and is already running sessions aimed at helping the food sector get back up and running as quickly as possible.
The second of the Academies is the Global Academy for Human-Centred Design. Cardiff Met has a good record in working with small businesses to get their products to market and to commercialise new ideas using the latest design technology, and this Academy builds on that expertise and knowledge.
The third Global Academy is focused on Health and Human Performance and has grown from the merger of Sport and Health three years ago to form one of the UK’s largest Schools of Sport and Health Sciences. The health sector has been impacted more than any other by the pandemic. Cardiff Met has got real expertise in the field that it believes can help the health sector develop and come out of Covid into new ways of working, using resources differently and more effectively to work with populations to improve physical activity and health.
Degree apprenticeships are an increasingly popular alternative to the difficult choice of whether to take a degree or take an apprenticeship. They offer students the possibility of getting a degree level qualification while earning an income.
Until now there has been a relatively narrow offering of degree apprenticeships in Wales, but the likely difficult economic times ahead as we gradually come out of the recession will force Wales to think more proactively about degree apprenticeships. Cardiff Met has already had a successful programme with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) offering a Degree Apprenticeship in Data Science, and Prof Aitchison thinks there will be more. “Industry will demand degree apprenticeships, and we are ready and willing to contribute,” she said.
The Cardiff Met Edge
Another platform in the university’s strategic plan is something it calls the Cardiff Met EDGE. The EDGE is an acronym for Ethical, Digital, Global and Entrepreneurial, a combination of skills and experiences the university wants to instil in all its students as they go out into the workplace.
“We need our students to have those capacities and capabilities, so that they make a contribution not just through being a whizz in digital technology, but also by approaching things from a global mindset and an ethical stance, and by being able to be enterprising themselves,” said Prof Aitchison.
Finally, there’s what Education Minister Kirsty Williams calls universities’ civic mission. Cardiff Met has been doing a lot of work during the lockdown to provide education, sport and exercise for local communities. Students on Initial Teacher Education programmes have been supporting parents involved in home schooling, and staff have been offering a range of classes and activities to keep both adults and children fit and active. As we come out of the lockdown, the University will be focused on the close link between health and wellbeing and economic recovery. “We can’t look at these two things separately; if we haven’t got a healthy workforce – and it’s about mental health as much as physical health – we can’t possibly think that we can be innovative and entrepreneurial,” said Prof Aitchison.
“We’ve got a lot to offer around entrepreneurship, and also around social cohesion and wellbeing. The big issue for all of us is going to be linking these two things together; how do we become a sustainable economy with the potential to grow, while also developing a really healthy population?
“With a positive will and good connections with industry, there’s no reason why we can’t do this. It’s going to be a really interesting couple of years.”