Academic masterplan helps a region to grow

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When Gareth Roberts became vice-chancellor of Sheffield University, he found there was a European and an international office on campus but no regional office. So, he set one up.

Today the university has a regional strategy and is a member of the Yorkshire and Humberside Universities Association, which has nine universities in membership. Sheffield is setting out to support the city and the region's growth and to ensure local resources are knitted into the university's work.

For example, as part of their courses students are doing projects in partnership with local businesses. A total of 2,000 students from 43 departments took part in collaborative projects in 1995-96.

"We are beginning to change the culture," says the regional office director, Dr Marilyn Wedgwood. "One of our primary aims is to make business more competitive and more innovative. At the same time, students are learning an enormous amount."

All universities in the regional grouping see themselves as important vehicles in the economic regeneration of the area. All share a common Web page on the Internet.And all have a strong incentive to collaborate, because of the European money on offer to depressed regions.

Sheffield University has set up Medilink to increase competitiveness in medical technology. The result has been 50 new medical products and more than pounds 600,000 levered into research and development. The Materials Forum is for materials-processing companies, and Environet is a networking initiative for environmental industries.

To encourage more local children to contemplate signing up for a degree, the university has set up Early Outreach, to raise aspirations in schools which have not traditionally sent pupils to higher education. A total of 22 schools are taking part and 1,100 pupils from years 9, 10 and 11 have visited the university. Parents are also courted through special evening events.

"The message is that the university is seriously engaged in working with its region," says Dr Wedgwoodn