Understanding the Role of a Civic University


How universities can best serve their communities has been the subject of a major independent inquiry involving schools, employers, the health sector, local Government, arts and culture providers and of course universities themselves.

The UPP Foundation Civic University Commission was established and funded by the UPP Foundation, with the support of Shakespeare Martineau and Universities UK.

In its report, due to be published next week, the Commission will give concrete recommendations for Government, universities and others, and outline what different 21st century civic universities might look like and how they might operate.

But what defines a ‘civic university’?

According to the UPP Foundation, if people can talk about “our university” with pride and awareness and a large percentage of the leaders in an area are integrally linked to an institution, then it is almost certainly civic.

Similarly, a civic university must be truly local and be willing to accept that there are some people it prioritises — in particular those who grow up, live, and work in the area it serves.

It should play an active role in the development of the place it serves and in shaping and leading the decisions that affect those people, in the areas where it is expert.

The Commission’s progress report also stated that it is important that there is a clear strategy that is informed by close partner engagement and an objective analysis of local needs.

As a partnership, the MEU’s aim is to be a key delivery partner for the Midlands Engine and the Government’s wider Industrial Strategy, helping to make the region a better place to live, work and invest.

Our universities have been playing a key role in their respective communities and have long-standing civic heritages.

The universities of Birmingham City, Derby, Nottingham Trent, and Wolverhampton have been at the heart of their cities for over 175 years, having been set up to help support the education and training of its trades and industries.

 In 2015, William Whyte, the Oxford historian, writing about civic universities heralded the University of Lincoln as ‘rediscover[ing] and reviv[ing]’ the civic university. The University drew on all the elements of the civic mission; having been established by the will of the local community – by the city and county councils and a wide range of business partners.

Today, our institutions have a successful track record of working with employers, both public and private sector, of all sizes to increase the productivity of the Midlands through applied research, innovation, and knowledge exchange.

We have a very large curriculum base where students can come and study a wide range of courses and are ideally placed to help fill the higher-level skills gaps in the region by working with industry to offer flexible pathways to degrees and higher apprenticeships.

From an educational perspective, we therefore have a significant impact on the lives of local people. Many of our graduates go on to work for the NHS, schools or emergency services, so we are making a significant contribution to the quality of local services.

We are deeply embedded into the health and social care strategic and operational boards across the region, helping to shape future health and social care provision and workforce requirements across the sector (NHS, private, voluntary and independent). The partnership approach of the NHS and higher education institutions has influenced policy and practice in areas such as the recruitment of local people into their local university to secure regional jobs.

MEU is also committed to increasing not only the numbers of young people entering higher education, but also the proportion from under-represented groups.

Our applied research provides real solutions to businesses to help them develop new products and services, and we are proud of the partnerships our universities have with leading organisations including Rolls-Royce, the BBC and Siemens. However, as well as working with global industries, we support businesses of any size, at any stage of their development.

Our Universities have also invested in state-of-the-art facilities for students, business, and the community such as STEAMhouse at Birmingham City University, which is an innovation centre supporting the creative industries, and the Brownfield Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Wolverhampton which supports SMEs with all aspects of brownfield remediation and regeneration challenges.

Our universities also play a key role in developing the arts and cultural offering in their localities by increasing the range and quality of things to do and see. Not also does this benefit those living and working in the region but also attracts more tourists thereby boosting the visitor economy. MEU members have also established close links with Arts Council England, facilitating projects and investments in the cultural and creative sector locally and beyond at a time of severe government cuts to the arts.

In 2016/17 (latest available figures from HESA), over seven million attendances/attendees at free events put on by MEU universities for the community. These included exhibitions, museums, dance & culture and public lectures.

As a partnership the MEU is keen to fully embrace its civic responsibility. Not only do our institutions understand the crucial role they play in the development of the place they serve, but also in addressing some of society’s biggest challenges.