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Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations for the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD), reviews a week of higher education news in which concerns emerged over universities’ financial stability due to Covid-19 and the impact of the crisis on students.
A growing number of higher education conferences and events are being postponed or moved online in response to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Amid predictions that higher education will be changed forever by the current pandemic, Professor James Miller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggests the innovative ways the sector is responding to the crisis will make it even more valued in the future.
The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them, says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.
As a growing number of universities move teaching and assessment online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Derby is holding a virtual conference which aims to support staff in making the transition.
The Office for Students is leaving it up to universities to decide on particular approaches to the Coronavirus pandemic rather than issuing specific guidance, and has promised to minimises its regulatory demands on the sector in response to the crisis.
A study has found substantial differences in degree attainment by students' religion or belief.
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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