Can Leeds build the MIT of the North?
For those that don’t know, MIT, or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is among the foremost universities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just next to Boston, this pioneering university has educated some of the most innovative scientists, mathematicians, astronauts and leaders the world has even known, from Richard Feynman to Kofi Anan to Buzz Aldrin.
Now, imagine if such an institution were to exist in Northern England? That’s the proposed idea to ‘reward voters’ in the northern regions for dramatically turning from red to blue and contributing to the overwhelming Conservative victory at the end of 2019.
The term ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has become familiar since George Osborne pledged to revolutionize the post industrial cities of the North under Teresa May. Boris Johnson’s new appointee as Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen has pledged to invigorate the initiative by proposing the creation of a world leading institution in Leeds.
The UK is already well known for its leading universities, and Leeds is already home to at least one. However, when it comes to those coveted STEM disciplines most of the very best institutions are not located in the North – think of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, and UCL for example.
One particular social phenomenon which has often been said to afflict the northern regions is so called ‘Brain Drain’ – where talented young people move away from their own regions to pursue their careers and eventually settle down. With the closing down of much industry over the last 30 years and the diminishing of apprenticeships, many talented school leavers move to other areas to get their education and find careers. The creation of an institution with the prowess of MIT will not only keep them there but will attract the best talent from all over the world.
MIT provides inspiration beyond its institutional reputation; it is a central player in the Greater Boston local economy thanks to the presence of innovative companies, industries and jobs which emerge out of the universities presence in the area. In fact, MIT have acknowledged their utility in regard to the local economy and created the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP) to help regions in other countries around the world develop innovation-led economies. Leeds is one region working with MIT within this exciting initiative.
The framework consists of a ‘series of mechanisms to translate, convene and educate teams of regional leaders’. REAP Team Leeds City includes stakeholders from the University of Leeds, KPMG, Arup, the Nexus Innovation Center, and the Leeds Academic Health Partnership, together developing entrepreneurial ecosystems in Leeds that will have local and national impacts.
Stakeholders have determined several best practice principles from the MIT model. Firstly, a commitment to a place-based approach and the importance of geographical ‘place’ to allow intangible assets of networks and knowledge to mingle and grow among each other. Secondly, innovation districts are seen as being key to cities attracting fast growing companies and processes to drive economic growth. Leeds must make bold investments in campuses, business space, and public facilities. Thirdly, there must be a focus on creating access to networks for research, mentoring, advice and commodification of ideas.
If an MIT of the North can be created in Leeds, then enormous growth can be unlocked in Northern England, creating networks of innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems. This is an incredibly exciting time for the North.
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