While the thought of returning to a lecture theatre during our summer break would fill most students with dread, the moods of Thomas Rowledge and I were quite the opposite as we travelled up to Southampton from Poole on Thursday. This is because we’d been invited to cover the University of Southampton’s Digital Day, hosted by the Web Science Institute and Public Policy unit at Southampton. This involved a number of cabinet office members of staff travelling down to Southampton, being given a tour, listening to a number of speakers and also attending some break out sessions. The aim was to create a clearer bond between those in government and the university and for each to share what they were up to!
We arrived at 12 at the smart, if a little bit hot, Bolderwood campus, just in time to nab the first round of refreshments. We then all convened and were welcomed by the VC, before Professor Susan Halford spoke on the Web Science institute and the work they were doing. Of particular interest to me was the way Susan showed the Web as having impacted education. It is something you have little time to think about when you are learning, but it is a massively important area. Following Susan,l was Dame Wendy Hall. Wendy spoke about the Artificial Intelligence Review she had been undertaking, and also gave her views on the challenges and changes the government would have to contend with. I must confess I haven’t read a government review in full previously, but after Wendy’s talk I just might!
After some top class lunch offerings, we split into breakout sessions, and Tom Rowledge and I each did different ones. I first went to one on Cyber Security, while Tom went to digital skills. The Cyber Security talk was more technical than I first thought, and it went over the SUNFISH project, which investigates benefits and methods of cloud federation for governments. The most interesting bit for me was learning more about protection of the data stored in such systems. After a very brief interlude, we went our separate ways again. I this time went to a talk on open data. I’ve always been interested in this area, but it was as refreshing as ever to hear the potential of Open Data in both the University and for the government. Those from the government in attendance too seemed very interested, which was great to see.
The day was rounded off by a panel sessions, where three members of the government were asked questions by the audience. I found this fascinating, as it’s one of the main areas I would like to work in in my future career. Those in government were clearly passionate about engaging with the academic community and driving forward UK innovation, which was fantastic to see. An interesting question asked how academics could become as “influential as the Daily Mail”. The reply was simply to see what you want to say, and what is important in 1 page, instead of 20.
To that end, I won’t waffle on much more in this blog post! But one final point I must make was how great it was to chat to Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Mark Spearing over lunch about their enthusiasm for the Web Science Undergraduate Degree, and for a more flexible University system. It was refreshing, inspiring and interesting all at once, so I’d like to thank them both, as well as the entire organising team, for a great day.