Menu Close

Space: Where Everyone Has a Place

By Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester

Picture Credit: University Of Leicester

How often do you see ministers, industry, civic and university leaders, and an astronaut mixing with schoolchildren?

I had reason to reflect on this when we launched Space Park Leicester – a £100 million academic-industry collaboration – with the support of astronaut Tim Peake, Science Minister George Freeman, and Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. The launch spoke of the compelling power of space to inspire and amaze the next generation.

Just over two decades ago, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council came together to create something truly magical and wonderful for Leicester – the National Space Centre. Since its creation, hundreds of thousands of visitors and schoolchildren have each year experienced first-hand the awesome wonder of space.

Now Leicester City Council, the University and the National Space Centre have joined forces with Midlands Engine, the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership, the Wolfson Foundation and many funders to take a giant leap forward to secure the future prosperity of Leicester.

In an area adjacent to some of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK, we are planting new seeds of growth. In an economy that has low productivity and is often characterised by low paid and low skilled jobs, we are bringing about change through world-leading space research.

Through this investment in one of the most multi-cultural areas of Leicester we are working with local schools and communities, with the support of government, local MPs and space superstars including Tim Peake, to ensure children right here in Leicester see this development as a future career option for them. We want space not only to inspire future generations, but to raise aspirations for young people in disadvantaged communities in Leicester and beyond.

It is about making real change in real time. We expect to create 2,500 jobs through Space Park Leicester and are attracting hi-tech companies to work alongside us, including Rolls Royce, CGI, AST SpaceMobile and EarthSense. Our partnerships with Leicester City Council and industry are also helping to ensure that many of the students who graduate from Leicester see opportunities to stay in Leicester because of the attractive career options available to them.

It is about creating new skills that are needed for the future. Between the University and National Space Centre, and National Space Academy, we will provide space education pathways from primary school through to PhD.

That is why at the launch of Space Park Leicester, the children with wonder in their eyes had just as important a role as the leaders who formally launched the Centre. It was not just about space, but about creating a truly inclusive space – a space where equality and diversity will also be supported. I am particularly keen to improve gender and ethnic diversity in this sector so that space is somewhere everyone has a place.

Astronaut Tim Peake was a fitting exemplar for us all. Inspiring future generations about the wonder and possibilities of space is what it is all about.For those children visiting the space facilities in Leicester, that voyage of discovery has just begun. The future is in their hands.

RAF Advertisement