‘Civic Universities’ in Yorkshire

Dr Peter O’Brien, Executive Director

Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, has asked DfE and BEIS civil servants to work with the UPP Foundation to take forward the proposals published by the Civic University Commission (CUC) in its recent report. Over 40 universities have, to date, signed up to work towards Civic University Agreements, which form a key recommendation in the CUC report.

Whilst the CUC report outlines an innovative way forward, some questions are worth posing at this stage. In particular, how might Civic University Agreements add value to the work already taking place amongst universities? How would universities ensure that there is a strong ‘corporate approach’ towards the civic university agenda across and within their institutions?

There are also important questions as to how universities work collaboratively with each other and with partners, and how local flexibility is combined with new quality standards. Reflecting earlier analysis, the CUC report suggests that new University Community Foundations could help to widen participation in adult education, and that local communities could rate the performance of institutions as civic universities. Significantly, the CUC report called on the government to make £500m available to incentivise behaviour and operationalise the recommendations made by the Commission. These important questions are being raised at a time when universities are facing a multitude of complex challenges and opportunities.

Recently, YU organised a workshop to follow in the immediate aftermath of the publication of the CUC report. A national meeting will be called by the CUC task force shortly, which will discuss how the Commission’s recommendations can be put into practice, and crucially what support is needed to realise the ambitions and proposals outlined by the CUC. Universities are being encouraged to lay the ground in order to respond to any formal process rolled out. The YU event was organised in order to find answers to these questions and to define what the concept of being a ‘civic university’ means in practice both within and across Yorkshire.

Regardless of what national resources are made available to progress the civic university agenda, there was a broad consensus at the YU workshop that universities can do – and are doing – things already at the local level to build and strengthen relationships with people and businesses. Similarly, the existing and emergent performance management frameworks operating in the higher education sector in England provide useful mechanisms for embedding and driving greater civic strategy and action.

YU was encouraged to share information and good practice amongst members – through the production and distribution of individual regional case studies, and other national and international examples. This would help identify the shared attributes that define the role of the civic university in Yorkshire. YU could also promote the linkages between civic university actions and those being taken forward under the theme of ‘universities as anchor institutions’. By sharing good practice, there is real potential to widen and deepen the engagement of universities in building the wealth of local communities. This fits with the central aims of the sectoral Centres of Excellence network for universities that the Centre for Local Economic Strategies is developing and which YU has been invited to contribute towards.

The YU workshop was led by Kevin Richardson, member of the expert group that advised the Commission. If you would like to read the full report of the workshop please email: enquiries@yorkshireuniversities.ac.uk

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