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UEL pledges commitment to local community

University of East London is among 40 higher education institutions to sign new “Civic University Agreement” to reaffirm role in the local community

The University of East London has reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to its community by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in the communities in which it serves at the top of its list of priorities.

The University of East London joins 40 other higher education institutions across the UK in committing to a “Civic University Agreement” in partnership with local government and other major institutions. The agreement is a key recommendation in a report just published by the Civic University Commission.

The University of East London’s vice-chancellor and president, Professor Amanda Broderick, said, “This agreement sets out how universities like the University of East London have the capability, opportunity and responsibility to support the places where they are based to solve some of their most pressing and major problems. With society facing complex global challenges (for example climate change and terrorism), the role of universities in solving these problems comes to the fore, not least in the communities where they are located. 

“This is something the University of East London has been doing for over 125 years: we have been pioneering futures since 1892, from the 2nd industrial revolution to where we are now, the 4th. We are not only in east London, we are of east London. Our socially-inclusive heritage and commitment to advancing knowledge and innovation to help people and planet form the foundation upon which our positive impact is based. We are active contributors to place-making at both the Royal Albert Docks and Stratford where our Campuses are located and also in business innovation and economic and social development in the round. Our aspiration is to both continue and grow in this important role.
“We are addressing challenges such as helping local business in the area adapt to technological change in the 4.0 economy; increasing access to a more diverse and inclusive talent pipeline; addressing health inequalities and supporting well-being; widening access to education and training; and, developing new civic leaders in every field from politics to the arts.

“We are an integral part of our East London community, providing a wide range of support throughout individuals’ lives.”

The Civic University Commission was set up by the UPP Foundation and chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service, Lord Kerslake.

Lord Kerslake 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.”

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.”

The report was based on evidence-gathering sessions held across England. 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 over 40 universities includes four key points: 

●Understanding local populations, and asking them what they want. Analysis of their place and people’s priorities are essential.
●Understanding themselves and what they are able to offer.
●Working with other local anchor institutions, businesses and community organisations to agree where the short, medium and long-term opportunities and problems lie for communities. Linking with local authorities and other local plans, such as the local industrial strategy is particularly important.
●A clear set of priorities. A process of agreeing clear priorities will therefore be necessary and, again, this is where collaboration and aligning resources with local authorities, LEPs (Local Economic Partnerships), NHS bodies and the like can help to identify the live issues that universities can most usefully help with.