<em>Aspects</em> talks to the Vice-Chancellor about her recent visits abroad

Aspects talks to Prof Julia King

We often hear that Aston’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Julia King, is overseas visiting other institutions.

In the first of a series of regular interviews throughout the year, Julia reveals more to Aspects about these prestigious visits, starting with her recent trips to Japan, Budapest, Dubai and India at the end of last year.

‘I went to Japan for the Science and Technology in Society Forum where I had been invited to lead a session on sustainable transport. The trip also gave me the opportunity to visit some of Aston’s partner universities including Osaka University where we have two significant collaborations. Aston is part of a prestigious EU funded photonics network and the other collaboration is a long-standing relationship with Prof Paul Furlong and his colleagues in neuroimaging. I was also able to see some of the fascinating latest developments at the Osaka University Hospital where they are using electronic signals from the brain to control artificial limbs.

‘The Science and Technology Forum is held in Kyoto, at the Conference Centre where the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was agreed in 1997 and this was the point in time when there was a global shift in attitudes to climate change. My session had attracted some very prestigious speakers and discussion leaders, including Fujio Cho the Chairman of Toyota, Steen Riisgaard the CEO of Novozymes, and Patrick Oliva, a Vice President of Michelin.’

You visit Budapest on a regular basis. What does your work in Budapest involve?

‘I visit Budapest almost every month as I am a Governing Board member of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) which is based in the city. Most recently, the EIT has developed an innovative programme of Knowledge and Innovation Communities programme (KIC). The KICs are a prestigious initiative to bring together the academic community and business schools across Europe with business and research centres to create what our European colleagues call the ‘Knowledge Triangle’ to stimulate economic growth through innovation, effective  technology transfer and the training and support of entrepreneurs.

Why is this programme so important?

‘It’s important to have both what you might call ‘external’ and ‘internal’ entrepreneurs. The world needs to have people who will start their own businesses - who knows where and when the new Microsoft or the new Google will appear! However, established industries need entrepreneurs inside them, as well. My experience at Rolls-Royce showed me that for innovative ideas that challenge the way things are normally done in a large company to survive and flourish and deliver change, they need champions who are committed to, and capable of, getting the company to realise their idea will work and be better than current products, practices or processes.’

How is Aston University involved?

'Aston is part of one of the first three KICs which have been launched across Europe. We are involved in the Climate KIC which focuses on climate change mitigation and adaptation and which is run by the University of Potsdam. I am immensely proud that Aston is part of this first wave of KICs.’

You also visited India.

‘I went to India as part of my role as the UK’s Low Carbon Business Ambassador. I was the plenary speaker at a low carbon vehicle conference. A UK trade and investment party consisting of academics and industrialists were also in India to meet with the Indian automotive industry so I was there to support the discussions of which areas of collaboration we should be trying to stimulate between the UK and Indian automotive industries.’

Tell Aspects about your trip to Dubai.

‘Every year the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils meet in Dubai and I was there as I am a member of the Global Agenda Council for the future of transport. We met to discuss and develop recommendations to  be taken to the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos. In Dubai we looked at how the world addresses the future of transport. To give colleagues an idea of the challenge we face, there are currently 6.2 billion people in the world and about 850 million cars. By 2050 predictions suggest the number of people will have risen to 9 million. Currently there are approximately 13 cars per 1000 people; but the US has 600 cars per 1000 people. If numbers were to grow to the current US level, there would be 5.4 billion cars in 2050! Already cars consume over 50% of the oil produced so we need to do some radical things if we are going to allow more people to have the levels of personal mobility we are accustomed to.'

Why is this so important?

‘Personal mobility drives economic growth and quality of life. Many people in India, Africa, and China for example, especially those in rural areas, do not have access mobility so if they want to collect water or take their children to the nearest medical station they have to walk. They are restricted to selling their produce locally rather than being able to take it to more distant markets where they could get better prices. For such individuals to have access to low cost and effective transport would greatly improve their lives. We need to achieve this in a sustainable way which will need innovation - new ideas and new initiatives.’

In her next Aspects interview, Prof Julia King talks about one of her most recent and prestigious trips abroad: her attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Words by Louise Russell