University of Bradford leads global tech initiative

Watching the big beasts of international politics get together in Argentina at the annual G20 leaders’ summit is a timely reminder to everyone that it’s good to talk. As their post-gathering communique spelled out, there are many difficult problems facing the world, not least the future of work, an infrastructure for development, a sustainable food future and gender equality. We can’t expect the big players to agree on everything but at least they’re all in the same room for a couple of days, even if they do return to business as usual as soon as they get home.

While Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman were doing the high-five in Buenos Aires, another international gathering was taking place in India, one with a very strong local connection that highlights the role that one of our city’s finest institutions is playing in tackling some of these big global challenges.

The University of Bradford launched the third annual World Technology Universities Congress (WTUC) at Chennai, a gathering of technology-focused institutions from Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia and the Americas held for the first time outside the UK this year. Hosted at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and the Hindustan Institute of Science and Technology, representatives from this growing network of universities debated, discussed and agreed how they can work together on cutting edge research and development opportunities to help deliver solutions.

The network was championed by Bradford’s vice-chancellor Professor Brian Cantor, who said: “Higher education, research, science and innovation are key drivers of economic growth, which depends on the positive exploitation of knowledge. Education transforms lives and societies, providing the route for technological advancement and social mobility. By harnessing the combined strength, resource, expertise, experience and knowledge of a network of the world’s great technology universities, we will create a global alliance of the brightest and best, dedicated to making knowledge work for the benefit of society.”

An example was provided by Professor Anne Graham, associate dean in the faculty of life sciences at the University of Bradford, who spoke at the WTUC. She told delegates about joint research programmes involving Bradford and international partners which are addressing local challenges with globally scalable solutions, including innovative efforts to improve dementia patient care and advance wound care through the regeneration of skin.

I was pleased to see the network add four new members at this year’s congress, taking the total to 22 technology universities. As Prof Cantor says, these institutions are committed to having a direct impact on the real world. And it’s great that Bradford is leading the way on this strong global initiative. Next year’s congress has already been confirmed and takes place at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology in Taipei.

As the G20 and WTUC demonstrate, it’s good to talk, whether you’re a politician, an academic, in business or a public servant. But in the emerging Internet of Things, it is devices which are doing all the talking. IoT refers to the new networks being established between connected technologies that can gather and share information to help inform and improve decision making.

Bradford council is pushing the boundaries in this field. It introduced a low power, wide area telecoms network in 2017 which has allowed a number of exciting technology pilot projects using sensors to measure all sorts of different things. These include water levels in rivers, waste levels in bins, footfall in district locations and safety at home to support independent living among the elderly. The data is gathered, shared and analysed to help the local authority to make better decisions and allocate its resources more effectively.

Another example of Bradford as a Smart City is the collaboration between the local authority and Extreme Low Energy, a Lancashire SME, to reduce the cost of electricity through the distribution of energy throughout office buildings via ethernet cabling. It’s safe and clever and clearly won over the judges at last week’s iNetwork awards, where it triumphed in the Partner Excellence category.

Nobody’s pretending the problems of the world will be easy to overcome. But it’s inspiring to see how initiatives being developed on our district’s doorstep are offering hope that solutions can and will be found. I’ll give a high-five to that.

  • Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club.

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