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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

Research England names KEF pilot institutions

Research England has selected 21 English universities to take part in a pilot Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF), which will run between February and May 2019.

Town and gown united can reach out to the world, study finds

Town and gown is working together in Amsterdam. Image: tykhyi / 123RF

The “ivory tower” is a tired label that fails to capture the complex and deep relationship between universities and the cities where they are based, according to a British Council study.

Universities can work effectively with cities to build on their mutual strengths and identities and reach out to the world through a strategic internationalism, an analysis of four medium sized European cities has concluded.  But effective internationalisation is not inevitable and needs work to find and nurture the areas where collaboration can be most effective.

Although cities can learn much from one another, models for collaboration should be developed locally by university and city leaders rather than imported from “best practice”, says a report on the findings, Mutual influence: Universities, cities and the future of internationalisation, launched at the British Council's Going Global conference. The make-up of institutions and priorities will differ markedly from one city to another.

Each of the four cities featured in the report – Amsterdam, Hannover, Dublin and Glasgow - has built a model of working together with universities that is tailored to the nature of the place and environment in which they are based.  Though they differ, there are certain factors that have helped progress, such as a dedicated member of staff in the city office to coordinate relations with universities or an informal network of key figures to co-ordinate activity.

Cities should recognise the diverse characters and strengths of their universities, while universities should work together to co-ordinate conversations with City Hall rather than working in isolation, the report suggests.   Where there is little or no existing mechanism for university-city collaboration, the British Council may wish to convene an initial meeting and play and active role in promoting links, it says.

The process could start with shared interests, such as marketing to promote the city as an attractive place to live and campaigns to build on its national and international reputation.  Successful collaborations can also focus on “infrastructure bottlenecks” such as housing which is a common theme in the four cities surveyed.  Other initiatives include transport, joint trade delegations, attracting inward investment, branding of place and study destinations, and working together to improve marginalised pockets of the area or the joint running of integration programmes for visitors and refugees.

However, the report stresses that internationalism is fragile and cities can find themselves at the mercy of visa regimes and pressures on public finances.

“The positive collaborations outlined in this report are replicable in cities all over the world but they are just as easily swept away by destructive forces,” it says. In particular, globalisation is vulnerable in the face of populism and the rise of nationalism and isolationism at the expense of openness and free movement.

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