Five universities in Greater Manchester have announced the development of a joint Civic University Agreement (CUA), to be released this summer.
Manchester Metropolitan University, Royal Northern College of Music, University of Bolton, University of Manchester and University of Salford are working with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), headed by the metropolitan mayor Andy Burnham, on the largest agreement of its kind in the UK. An agreement in July 2020 between two universities in Nottingham was the first example of a multi-institutional CUA in the UK.
Dame Nancy Rothwell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, announced the CUA at the Civic University Network 2021 digital conference at Sheffield Hallam University, the hosts of the event.
The Manchester vice-chancellor told delegates that she and her four counterparts had met every week during the pandemic. “Through the pandemic, we’ve looked at what we can do together, we’ve shared problems, and we’ve had challenges and tried to share solutions. And so we decided that we would develop a joined-up Civic University Agreement with Greater Manchester Combined Authority,” Dame Nancy said. She said she hoped that, following the pandemic, it “becomes the norm rather than the exception for universities to work together in a region”.
“Greater Manchester includes two cities, Manchester and Salford, and 51 towns, and a huge diversity of views, of prosperity and activity,” said Dame Nancy.
I asked if kids wanted to come to my university and they said, ‘Ah, no, that’s for posh people’. I was devastated, but it was true
– Dame Nancy Rothwell, University of Manchester
The universities commissioned Public First to undertake an extensive poll of 1,000 Mancunians to underpin the terms of the new agreement. The polling had shown that younger, more educated, affluent and city-centre-dwelling Mancunians were more like to report feeling proud and engaged with the universities. Older, non-university-educated residents that were less affluent and living on the outskirts of the GMCA valued the universities less.
“Fewer than half of residents thought we were directly involved with the local community, and only a third of people thought that we provided direct benefit to themselves or their family and friends,” Dame Nancy said. “More than half of the population of GM say they have never visited us – either because they didn’t realise we were open to the public, or there was nothing we offered that was of interest to them.”
The polling did find that that the universities were seen as “central to the city region”, with three quarters (73%) of respondents agreeing universities are vital to the local economy, and eight in 10 (79%) believing they make Manchester a better place to live. Seven in 10 (71%) of those surveyed say they are proud of the role GMCA universities play in the region, Dame Nancy continued.
The University of Manchester vice-chancellor said the findings had not come as a surprise to her.
She recalled that when she first assumed her role, a local councillor likened the Russell Group institution to the Vatican: “‘It’s utterly impenetrable’ were the words she used”, Dame Nancy remembered.
The 65-year-old also said a recent visit to a disadvantaged school had reminded her that not all Manchester residents view the university as she does: “I asked if any of the kids wanted to go to university and they said, ‘Oh, yes, please’. I asked if kids wanted to come to my university and they said, ‘Ah, no, that’s for posh people’. I was devastated, but it was true.”
Dame Nancy said that, although the universities hoped to work more closely with GMCA, “we cannot be the sole solution to all of the societal problems”.
“There are times when we need to push back and say it’s just not within our gift to solve all aspects of educational differences of poverty, of inequalities of economic growth, although we can help to contribute to alleviating them,” she added.