The UPP Foundation has named Sheffield Hallam University as the host of the Civic University Network and the recipient of £145,000 of seed funding.
Sheffield Hallam will use this funding to develop and share place-based strategies with universities in the Network, including helping them respond locally to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the coming weeks and months, the Network wants universities to support local communities to overcome the long-term social and economic challenges of the coronavirus crisis. Sheffield Hallam will coordinate the response with the help of the universities of Glasgow, Newcastle, Queen Mary and Birmingham.
The host of the Civic University Network will also help universities write Civic University Agreements (CUA), which act as joint plans between a higher education institution (HEI) and local businesses, schools, NHS healthcare trusts, charities, community groups and others.
These CUAs detail how a university seeks to strengthen the local society, economy and culture.
Prof Sir Chris Husbands, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, welcomed the news and added: “There really has never been a time when universities’ civic role has been more important than it is now.”
And as universities have become magnets for global students and massive research programmes, their connection to their place and the people can sometimes be called into question: how are the people in a place benefiting from the university success story?
– Civic University Commission report, February 2019
The Civic University Commission report
In December 2019, the UPP Foundation announced it was inviting universities to bid to be named host of the Civic University Network – an organisation first mooted in the Civic University Commission report, which was chaired by Lord Kerslake and published in February 2019.
The report said universities “have become major contributors to the economic and social wellbeing of their place” and “one of the largest employers – next to the NHS – in many cities and areas of the country”.
Although the report said there was “much enthusiasm” for civic engagement in universities, it questioned whether members of the public benefited from that passion.
“As three-year degrees for 18 year olds have become the dominant model, the number of ‘adult learners’ – often the majority in the first civic universities – have declined rapidly. Local research is often considered second or third best.
“And as universities have become magnets for global students and massive research programmes, their connection to their place and the people can sometimes be called into question: how are the people in a place benefiting from the university success story?” the report’s authors asked.
The commissioners added that many universities “have been relatively dismissive of place – at least in their rhetoric. They have seen themselves as increasingly global first, national second, and local third”.
When it launched the competition, the UPP Foundation summarised: “While the Commission heard about lots of very impressive civic activity, the Commission almost never heard of a strategy – backed by rigorous analysis of local needs and opportunities, ambitious objectives and a clearly articulated plan – that made place-based civic engagement a core part of the university’s mission.”
Sheffield Hallam will now help universities develop civic university plans, underpinned by local knowledge of what is needed in towns and cities.
The Network will have a vital role in helping to coordinate a long-term sector response to helping communities overcome the social and economic challenges arising from the spread of coronavirus
– Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation
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Sheffield Hallam will be receiving £145,000 to establish the Network, following the Arts Council’s decision to award £20,000 of additional seed funding. This donation builds upon the £50,000 pledged by the UPP Foundation, the £25,000 from Carnegie UK Trust, and the Department for Education’s £50,000.
Universities’ response to coronavirus
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said, “our universities are already playing an important part” in responding to coronavirus, and that she was “confident universities will support their communities’ local response, mobilising students and staff and helping health services in the challenges ahead”.
Richard Brabner, director of the UPP Foundation, said launching the network was an urgent priority given the Covid-19 outbreak, and added: “Right now, universities are focused on the needs of their students and staff but when the sector has put its immediate plans in place, there are numerous activities they can develop to support their local communities.
“The Network will have a vital role in helping to coordinate a long-term sector response to helping communities overcome the social and economic challenges arising from the spread of coronavirus. The civic role of universities will be particularly important in developing shared community responses during this time of crisis.”