"Our roots in the region run deep" : launch of Spotlight on East of England

Windy Autumn evening, Corkway Drove, Norfolk      
            Credit:  Fred Ing

Windy Autumn evening, Corkway Drove, Norfolk Credit: Fred Ingrams

As we begin a month-long focus on research and outreach activities carried out by Cambridge University across the East of England, our Vice-Chancellor talks about the importance of telling these stories.

The University of Cambridge must be a good local citizen, an advocate for the region, a national asset and a truly global actor

Stephen J. Toope

The University of Cambridge is a global institution. Our students and staff come from all over the world; our researchers conduct their work on every continent. Notwithstanding this international outlook and impact, our University is firmly and proudly planted in the East of England. Our roots in the region run deep because of our longevity.

In fulfilling our mission - to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research - we are fundamentally committed to engaging with communities and partners close to home.

Over the coming month, we will  feature  a selection of the research and outreach activities carried out by Cambridge academics across the East of England, an area that includes the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. (See also a special issue of our magazine, Research Horizons, focused on the East of England: download a  ; view on  Issuu )

The region has many assets - innovative and entrepreneurial people, hugely successful clusters of knowledge-intensive industries, vast tracts of high-quality agricultural land and outstanding academic institutions.

But the region also faces multiple challenges. In some areas, acute economic inequalities are linked to low educational outcomes, poor health, skills deficits and reduced connectivity.

At the University of Cambridge, we take seriously our responsibility to be a champion for the region and to help address some of its more pressing challenges. In collaboration with local partners, researchers are offering innovative approaches to areas ranging from understanding coastal erosion to ensuring healthy ageing and from tackling inequality to enhancing agriculture.

Whether it is helping to improve skills and education, supporting innovation and better infrastructure, bringing an evidence-based approach to criminal justice or assisting the management of national heritage, Cambridge research is having a real impact on some of the biggest problems facing the UK today.

Collaboration allows our researchers to draw on, and learn from, our partners’ expertise, while amplifying the impact and reach of our own knowledge. Lessons learned locally are transferable far beyond the eastern counties.

This is a good time to share these stories of local engagement. Some have direct relevance to the UK government’s Industrial Strategy, which aims "to boost productivity... to create good jobs and increase the earning power of people throughout the UK with investment in skills, industries and infrastructure."

Many of the themes we will cover reflect that aspiration.

I hope this Spotlight will achieve two things. First, that it will be of value to policymakers - in the eastern region and beyond - who are grappling with the local issues we explore.

Second, that it will demonstrate the many intricate ways in which a global institution like ours discharges its duty to serve and support local communities.

The University of Cambridge must be a good local citizen, an advocate for the region, a national asset and a truly global actor. Balancing these distinct roles is not easy. Beyond the expertise we bring to our partnerships, it requires openness, and the humility to listen and learn what our communities expect from us. This is the only way an institution such as ours can offer the greatest and widest possible value to society, at home and abroad.

In the region, as elsewhere, there is always more to do. But the breadth and longevity of our mutually beneficial partnerships with local authorities and policymakers, schools, healthcare providers, businesses, employers and research institutions underscore the importance that these relationships have for us.

Our engagement takes many shapes and serves many purposes. Our academic community remains open to new and creative forms of working with partners in the East of England. 

Professor Stephen J. Toope

Image credit: Windy Autumn evening, Corkway Drove, painted by Norfolk-based artist Fred Ingrams. Reclaimed from the sea and drained by ditches and rivers, Fenland is one of the most distinctive rural landscapes in the East of England.

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Download issue 37 (PDF)