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The Westminster government should wake up to the full potential of higher education to help it meet its ‘levelling up’ goals, argues Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University.
Jonathan Baldwin, managing director of higher education at Jisc, reflects on a week that’s felt the force of people power – and says it’s time for university leaders to respond to students’ calls for change.
Alison Johns, Chief Executive of Advance HE, reviews another week in which higher education found itself in the spotlight, even when a royal funeral dominated the headlines.
Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence for Prospects at Jisc, reviews a week of higher education news which felt much like every other since lockdown, as new research on graduate earnings and university admissions was published.
Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Students Employers, reviews a week of HE news in which student accommodation, fee refunds, graduate jobs, and research funding surfaced as key issues.
Reviewing a week in which issues affecting women’s lives were in the spotlight, Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at the Council for Higher Education Art and Design (CHEAD), sees hopeful signs of moves to address gender equality in higher education.
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.
The new agreement is a key recommendation in a report published by the Civic University Commission set up by the UPP Foundation and chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service, Lord Kerslake.
The report sets out how universities have the capability, opportunity and responsibility to further support the places where they are based to solve some of their most pressing and major problems, ranging from helping local business adapt to technological change, to boosting the health of local people.
But it also warns that there is a danger that any cut in the resources available to universities – such as a reduction in student fees without the deficit being made up in funding from the Treasury - will mean that work already being done in this area, including help provided to schools and further education colleges, could be hit.
The report aims to help universities build on the work that many of them are already carrying out in these areas, working alongside councils, employers, cultural institutions, schools and further education colleges.
Lord Kerslake, chair of Sheffield Hallam University, and a former Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Communities and Local Government, said: "The deep economic and social changes that are happening in Britain today have, alongside Brexit, made the civic role of universities even more vital to the places they are located in.
"The civic universities of the Victorian era were founded as expressions of civic pride, and as a way of sharing knowledge and opportunity at a time of rapid change.
"We are now entering a new industrial revolution when it will be even more vital that knowledge is accessible in as many communities as possible.
"It is not just people outside university grounds who will benefit. Universities are under unprecedented challenge and need to find a broader base of support. Universities need to be part of a community which is engaged, supportive and shares objectives."
He added: "Universities have an irreplaceable and unique role in helping their host communities thrive – and their own success is bound up with the success of the places that gave birth to them."
Richard Brabner, director of the UPP Foundation, said: "Universities have the ability to make a real difference to the places they are located in through reinvigorating their civic role. But this is not just a responsibility, it's also an opportunity.
"This is an important report with concrete recommendations that all universities will want to consider. The UPP Foundation created the commission to look at what it means to be a Civic University in the 21st Century and ask local people what they wanted from their local institution.
"We know that many universities want to build engagement with the community around them. It's excellent news that such an impressive list of institutions has already signed up and the UPP Foundation strongly endorses the report's findings."
The report was based on evidence-gathering sessions held across England, with input from civic leaders such as Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham. The authors also commissioned opinion polling and focus groups in cities and towns to hear from the public what they wanted from their local university.
This research discovered communities welcome opportunities to connect with universities, and there is great local pride about how universities put their hometown on the map.
The report says that the Government needs to fundamentally review policies to support further civic engagement by universities. Until the recent creation of an industrial strategy, government has for many decades been too indifferent about places within the United Kingdom – contributing to some regions falling behind.
But universities can take a vital step at this pivotal time by adopting the Commission's idea of a Civic University Agreement setting out what they will offer local communities and which major local strategic needs they will seek to address. All this needs to be based on listening to the local community.
The Civic University Agreement signed by 30 universities includes four key points:
List of signatories to Civic University Agreement:
Professor Colin Bailey, President and Principal, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Liz Barnes, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Staffordshire University
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Sunderland
Professor Dame Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool
Professor Paul Boyle CBE, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester
Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Warwick
Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor and President, Newcastle University
Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham
Professor Graham Galbraith, Vice-Chancellor, University of Portsmouth
Professor David M A Green CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Worcester
Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield
Professor John Latham, Vice-Chancellor, Coventry University
Professor Geoff Layer, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wolverhampton
Professor Susan Lea, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hull
Patrick Loughrey, Warden, Goldsmiths, University of London
Professor Helen Marshall, Vice-Chancellor, University of Salford
Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hertfordshire
Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice-Chancellor, Keele University
Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Derby
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow
Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice-Chancellor and President, Ulster University
Professor Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor, University of Northampton
Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Plymouth
Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
Professor Mark E. Smith, Vice-Chancellor, Lancaster University
Professor Mary Stuart, Vice-Chancellor, University of Lincoln
Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Sussex
Professor Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Nottingham
Professor Steven West CBE, Vice-Chancellor, President and Chief Executive Officer,
University of the West of England
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