The instrumental impact of EU funding

“As a research-led University with a strong sense of civic mission, regional economic and social development are a major priority”

As Wales braces for what could be a perfect economic storm in the months ahead, Ceri D. Jones, director of Swansea University’s Research, Engagement and Innovation Services looks at the impact of EU funding on regional development, and some of the seeds of hope in the pipeline.

Recently Ford announced its engine plant in Bridgend is set to close in autumn 2020, with the loss of 1,700 jobs.  Just weeks ago, British Steel was put into compulsory liquidation – re-igniting major concerns about an industry that employs thousands in Wales.  With the UK set to leave the European Union on the 31 October, Wales is set to lose out on hundreds of millions of pounds each year in EU funding that has been driving economic and social regeneration in recent years.

Swansea University is located within the ‘West Wales and the Valleys’ region, which has been identified as one of the most deprived regions within Northern Europe, and as such, is a net beneficiary of EU funding.

As of May 31 2019, £1.88bn of EU Funds has been injected into Wales as part of the 2014-2020 framework (91% of total allocated), driving a total investment of nearly £3.2bn. This has facilitated a myriad of projects and programmes in assisting some 7,215 enterprises, supporting the creation of over 1,490 enterprises and over 11,320 jobs.  The funding has supported 13,290 people into work, 8,510 into further learning and enabled 73,255 people to gain qualifications.

EU funding has played an instrumental role in Swansea University’s rise up a plethora of league tables over the last decade for the quality of teaching, research and overall student experience; contributing to Swansea University becoming the UK’s biggest climber in the REF league table in 2014, soaring from 52nd in the UK to 26th.

Hailed as one of the largest knowledge economy projects in Europe, in 2015 Swansea University effectively doubled in size with the opening of its Bay Campus, offering businesses (including Rolls Royce, Tata Steel, Fujitsu and Pfizer) the opportunity to co-locate, and work directly alongside some of the brightest minds in the world. Leading up to the grand opening, the University experienced a sharp rise in student numbers, turnover and staff numbers.  Spinout companies were formed and over 400 new skilled jobs were created.  The economic impact from the construction of the Bay campus alone was estimated at over £3bn.  EU funding was instrumental in making this happen.

As a research-led University with a strong sense of civic mission, regional economic and social development are a major priority, and sees us working on over 30 EU-funded demand-led academic/industry collaborative projects (as part of the 2014-2020 framework) valued at over £120m, that are delivering economic and social benefits to Wales right now.

It is clear that Wales has captured impressive levels of investment from the EU over the last decade which has facilitated collaborations with thousands of SMEs, academic institutions and regional stakeholders.  Earlier this year, Swansea University worked alongside Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff University in delivering a Science and Innovation Audit report for Wales, which was sponsored by the UK Government’s Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.  The report highlighted major strengths and opportunities to lead the world in the fields of steel innovation, smart manufacturing, agri-food tech and health innovation.

If our success is to be maintained, and we as a nation are to capitalise on the opportunities identified, investment to the scale currently furnished by the EU must be maintained.  The University has made provision in this regard, strengthening our industry partnerships, seeking new collaborations, developing our research community through a robust research environment and ensuring we are well equipped to capture funding from a diverse portfolio of funders.

“If our success is to be maintained… investment to the scale currently furnished by the EU must be maintained”

We continue to liaise strongly with funding bodies including the UK Research Office, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Welsh Government and UK Government in relation to informing the shape and structure of potential replacements to EU Structural Funding, with discussions currently based around a new ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’.

To facilitate organisational growth within our region through collaboration, we launched a new engagement network, Swansea University: LINC last year.  Over 700 delegates have registered to participate in the events put on so far, including individuals from local SMEs, multi-national companies, investors, local authorities, national Government, further and higher education, and some of our most enterprising students. This network has given us the ability to shine a light on some of our region’s major strengths and facilitated collaboration, which has led to significant opportunities over a short timeframe.

For an overview of some of the EU funded projects at Swansea University, and the impact these are having on the region, please visit here

About the author: Ceri D. Jones, is the director of Swansea University’s Research, Engagement and Innovation Services