In February, which seems a like a lifetime ago now, and when it was still permissible to gather in large groups, YU invited academics from Newcastle University to Leeds in order to meet university counterparts in Yorkshire, as well as local authority and health officials, in order to present findings from a newly-published report on some of the lessons learned from the Urban Living Partnership (ULP) pilots.
At the YU roundtable on 11 February, Mark Tewdwr-Jones who until recently was a Professor of Town Planning at Newcastle University and Director of Newcastle City Futures gave a brief overview of the pilots.
In 2016, the UK Government, through the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK, launched a series of ULP pilots. The initiative was open to any consortia in places where there was a local university that could co-ordinate and lead bids through individual platforms. While academics would take the lead, the platform would also serve as a hub for different sectors (e.g. business, public, community, voluntary, as well as universities) to collaborate, engage and determine future courses of action. Five pilots ran for 18 months in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle-Gateshead and York.
You can watch Louise Kempton, Senior Research Associate in the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), Newcastle University, present the key results of the lesson-learning review into the impact of the ULPs in these five designated places.
The ULPs were a method of collaboration that were tasked with addressing some of the most ‘wicked’ problems in a specific place with, and which were posed the central question that David Marlow (Chief Executive of Third Life Economics and a visiting Professor of Practice at CURDS) posed to the participants:
‘What can the university do to give something back to the places in which it’s located and start to address some of those challenges?’
Participants at the roundtable were asked to consider what this meant for individual places both with and crucially without universities:
In the discussions about the places ‘with universities’, participants addressed the nuances of how universities and local authorities operate and work together; the challenges posed in the mapping interactions between the institutions; the extent to which academic research strengths can overlap with the strategic priorities of a local authority and other local anchor institutions (i.e. NHS, further education colleges) and how best to strengthen collaboration at a strategic level. The emergent civic university agreements are seen as one tool in which to formalise a relationship and agree a set of shared priorities.
Looking at the question of what places ‘without universities’ should do, the focus was on recognising FE colleges as anchor institutions, which can form relationships with universities outside their localities; the high levels of local procurement and recruitment in colleges of students and workers was highlighted; and in particular how students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be supported to train and retrain.
The ULP review found that successful places need to take some specific actions: visioning, use evidence intelligently, establish a strong leadership team, and provide a neutral space for debate and decision, and in particular where co-design and experimentation can take place. In places with a university, the university is can animate these processes. However, where there is no university in situ, a coalition of other institutions could fulfil that role.
In the current climate, where we face a global pandemic, a developing economic and social crisis and a climate and ecological emergency – the ULP study has reinforced the message that if ever there was a need for collaboration between local institutions, including universities, now is the time for it.