Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarships

You will excuse me for being indulgent today but having blogged on subjects as diverse as China, Bute Park and the future of the British pub during the past few weeks, I thought I would take this opportunity to describe some of the work I am developing as Director of Research and Innovation at the University of Wales.

What has become clear to an increasing number of us is that even within the most technologically advanced economies, and despite the best efforts of businesses and academia, not all of the innovation needed to drive competitive economies can be developed internally

With the growing realisation that there is a need to attract the best global talent to boost innovation potential, both the USA and mainland Europe have undertaken recruitment drives to increase postgraduate numbers from abroad by offering attractive packages to win a bigger share of this lucrative market.

In contrast, the UK is cutting scholarships to overseas students and leading academics are becoming concerned that we are not doing enough to bring in quality graduates.

Even the best British universities are falling behind the drive to attract the best academic brains. Only last year, Professor Alison Richard, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, suggested that the UK was not providing enough resources to recruit sufficient extraordinary people to be at the frontier of research excellence.

Of course, the problem has been even more acute within Wales and it is something that we have been actively seeking a solution to.

After months of discussion and development, the University of Wales has come up with an opportunity to address the innovation deficit, namely the Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarships.

Supported by European funding, the private sector and the university’s own cash, this £11.4m programme will bring 100 of the brightest university graduates from the world’s best academic institutions to work on research projects within Welsh companies.

To do this, each student will be offered a stipend of £20,000 a year, a research support fund of £5,000 and their tuition fees paid.

Not surprisingly, these are among the best research grants offered anywhere in the world and demonstrates our seriousness and commitment in getting the best talent to come to Wales.

The premise of the programme is simple but effective.

World class graduates will be placed for three years into Welsh businesses, working on science, technology and innovation projects that are of direct relevance to improving the capacity to develop new market-led processes, products, technologies and services and, over time, the Welsh economy.

Indeed, there may be considerable future spin-off opportunities for the Welsh economy from the programme. As the Welsh-born venture capitalist Michael Moritz said last year at a Cardiff Business Club dinner, the internet revolution led by companies such as Google, YouTube and Yahoo is testament to how young scientific talent from overseas can boost entrepreneurial potential.

In some of the most innovative regions of the world such as Silicon Valley in California, more than half of all new technology-based firms are started by non-Americans.

To achieve this, the University of Wales has already been in detailed discussions with some of the world’s leading research universities, such as MIT, the University of California and Rice University, to discuss ways of collaborating on this project and to bring some of their best students to Wales to support our innovative businesses.

We are also working on attracting the best in Asia and during the past five days, a member of my team has been crisscrossing Japan talking to both major industrial companies such as Hitachi, as well as half a dozen leading Japanese universities on how they can work alongside us to deliver and develop the programme.

The response, I am proud to say, has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

In creating a global open innovation system between world-class overseas universities, home-grown businesses and our own higher education institutions (especially those newer universities that need critical support to enhance their research potential), we are establishing a new model of open and collaborative innovation that has the potential to boost opportunities for the Welsh economy and is a million miles away from the parochialism and elitism that has blighted our economic fortunes for far too long.

Recently, Sir David Lewis – the proud Welshman and former Lord Mayor of London – stated that: “Wales needs to become less insular and more international if it is to match rival UK countries…We are not outward-looking and expanding the way that we should be. The way to grow is to look outward, not inward. That can be addressed through education, by welcoming foreign expertise to Wales.”

Through focusing on bringing the best graduate talent to bear on the Welsh business community and working with some of the world’s leading academic institutions, the University of Wales aims to ensure that Sir David’s sentiments are realised.

More importantly, I passionately believe that the Prince of Wales Scholarship Programme will help to show that our small and clever economy can punch above its weight and compete successfully on a global stage, bringing not only the best of the world to Wales, but then taking the best of Wales to the world.

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