“Many of the smaller, less research intensive universities have thrived without significant state funding”

Many readers of this may not know that we have a new Vice-Chancellor, Nick Petford. All those associated with Ann Tate know how much we owe to her during her years in charge. She forced through an updating of the teaching in both content and form to make what is offered relevant to the modern world. She supported the major redevelopment of the tannery and the teaching facilities that have made it better and more relevant to our work than when it was first opened; properly thought out for teaching and research. And most important she brought back a new optimism and sense of direction which has carried on in her senior staff. This includes those like the Dean who have worked tirelessly to create the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies. Now we have an ability to address the whole leather world from raw material to retailer using all the areas of expertise we have in a unique combination. So thanks to Ann Tate we have been given the tools to reinvent ourselves and now we owe the University and our other stakeholders a duty to make it work.

And the new Vice-Chancellor, where does he fit. In his first days he has made it absolutely clear that he gets the “leather thing”. In a recent article in a research magazine Nick Petford wrote that

There is only one university in the UK with its own purpose-built tannery. It is no surprise to find that this is located in Northampton the historical centre of the country’s leather industry.

The University of Northampton has used this facility to carry out some of the sort of applied research that will develop the products needed to pull the British economy out of recession. In this case, that product is an enzyme used to soften leather, allowing tanners to increase their yield by stretching the leather without damaging its underlying structure.”

Most know of the work done on this enzyme by Tony Covington which is still earning steady if not spectacular royalties. But the significance of the work has increased in the light of funding changes going on in the University sector which leave Universities such as Northampton vulnerable. Business model is a badly over-used term but in the case of many Universities the business model of the last decade has hit the wall and within a matter of months a new business model is needed and it had needs to be right. In his article the Vice-Chancellor goes on to say:

There is a huge challenge for UK higher education institutions to see beyond the ‘entitlement culture’ that has developed as a result of decades of public funding. They need to use the outcome of the CSR to build new and meaningful business-university relationships that exist not just to plug public funding gaps but as core activities in and of themselves.”

So what some thought as Tony’s little hobby has now jumped up the priority scale, and is indicative of what other parts of the University must look into. Connections with industry for such highly worthwhile joint activities that can be done under Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) and special short courses – known in the jargon as Continuous Personal Development (CPD) – that showcase the value of having a tannery for teaching have to be added to the research activity and highly important areas for the future. And in Northampton linking closely to our own colleagues to offer innovative value to all the supply chain by building on potential synergies through working with fashion, product design, podiatry, business, nVision and non destructive testing adds to our unique offering as not just another middle England University but one with a special understanding of the leather business and all the participants in its complex supply network.

A great challenge, and a great opportunity, for leather in Northampton in 2011. Have a great Holiday.

Mike Redwood
22nd December 2010