Great cities are built around a number of elements. But, increasingly, a great university has to be a part of the mix. So the news today that Exeter University has been judged Sunday Times University of the Year and Plymouth University has entered the newspaper's top 50 for the first time in its history gives an enormous boost to the prospects for our region's two biggest cities and the areas they serve.
The league table for the South West – which extends from Gloucestershire to the Scillies – has Exeter and Plymouth in the top four, along with Bath and Bristol. That is a significant achievement for the far west of England where, not so many years ago, the top undergraduates, research students and staff were reluctant to go for fear of being out on a limb. No more.
Exeter, which has been piling success on success in the past year, is now a member of the prestigious Russell Group of research universities, has made it into the top 200 universities in the world, welcomed the Queen to the opening of the £50 million Forum building and seen student achievements soar, at the Cornwall campus as well as in Exeter itself.
Plymouth, meanwhile, has also grown hugely in recent years, made massive improvements to its buildings and infrastructure and become a significant force throughout the city and across the region.
Different parts of Britain must play to different strengths. Devon and Cornwall have many attributes as the producers and processors of food and centres for tourism, to name but two. But knowledge – the imparting of it to those who want to learn and the application of it in all aspects of modern life – is now one of our key assets. There has been much talk about turning the Westcountry into a "knowledge economy" in recent years and some confusion about exactly how that might work. Yet with Exeter's promotion to University of the Year and the great strides made by Plymouth to get into the top 50 rankings, a vague – though worthy – idea has become a reality and something to build on.
Huge congratulations are due to all those who have helped to make it happen, from the inspirational leaders, in Steve Smith at Exeter and Wendy Purcell at Plymouth, to the students whose enthusiasm and ability play such a big part in promoting their own institutions up the league table. These results have given a boost, not just to the universities themselves, but to the whole region.
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It is heartening to hear that even among those opposed to the pilot cull of badgers – due to get under way in Gloucestershire and Somerset in the coming weeks – appeals for calm are being made. TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham, who is against the cull, is the latest to come out and say that there is no justification for attacks on farmers – verbal, financial or physical – over the cull. So say all of us. This is a vexed issue. Conflict won't help.