The UPP Foundation has received a £50,000 funding boost from the Department for Education (DfE) to establish the Civic University Network, a UK-wide scheme to support the work of the Civic University Commission.
The commission, which has received backing from universities minister Chris Skidmore, published recommendations in February last year on how best to strengthen the link between universities and their local areas.
Among the report’s key proposals, which were supported by 58 universities, was the creation of a network for universities and new civic university agreements (CUA). All 58 HEIs pledged to develop a CUA with their local communities that would prioritise widening participation in HE and supporting the public sector.
In December last year, the UPP Foundation – the charitable organisation founded by the University Partnerships Programme – launched a competition to determine which institution should receive seed funding to host the Civic University Network, a project which aims to share best practice, develop peer review schemes and connect universities with local charities and civic organisations.
The foundation will now seek to invest £125,000 in the winning institutional host for the Civic University Network.
I am particularly pleased that the DfE will be part of the Network’s Advisory Group, helping to successfully steer its direction
– Richard Brabner, UPP Foundation
The contribution from the DfE was described as “a clear indication of the priority being placed on the economic, social and cultural role universities play in their towns, cities and communities,” by UPP Foundation director Richard Brabner.
“The additional funding will enable the network to have a much bigger impact in its first year of operation,” Mr Brabner said. “I am particularly pleased that the DfE will be part of the Network’s Advisory Group, helping to successfully steer its direction and shape its activities. We look forward to working closely with the department on this exciting initiative over the coming months.” The foundation has also pledged £50,000 towards the network’s set-up fund.
Richard Brabner, director of the UPP Foundation, says governments should create a dedicated ‘Civic University Fund’
‘How are the people in a place benefiting from the university success story’
The Civic University Commission’s 2019 report criticised some government policies and funding priorities, and claimed they had contributed to the dislocation between universities and their local areas.
The report’s authors concluded: “Our commission found many good examples of civic initiative and engagement. However, this has happened despite, not because, of government incentivisation or pressure.” It noted that the level of funding routed through the government’s industrial strategy for local priorities “is tiny compared to that going to international excellence”.
The report’s authors did note, however, that the number of adult learners in HE has declined rapidly and questioned “how are the people in a place benefiting from the university success story”.
“Many universities,” the report added, “have been relatively dismissive of place – at least in their rhetoric. They have seen themselves as increasingly global first, national second, and local third.”
Mr Skidmore said civic engagement was “a central priority for me and the government”.
“As I highlighted last year at the launch of the UPP Foundation’s report, universities have a pivotal role in their local economies, business strategies as well as improving productivity and social mobility,” the universities minister said. “That’s why I’m delighted to announce this £50,000 funding to establish a Civic University Network, which will help improve the relationship between universities and their communities and facilitate good practice between institutions.”
Pippa Coutts, policy and development manager at Carnegie UK Trust – which has also pledged £25,000 – said: “Universities have a vital role to play in the flourishing of the towns and cities where they are based. The network will provide essential support to universities that are serious about improving their contribution to the local community, and the additional funding will help to encourage more peer support and learning.”