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University of Birmingham has reaffirmed its commitment to Birmingham and the West Midlands by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in the local community top of its list of priorities.

The University of Birmingham joins 30 other institutions – which include many of the best-known names in higher education - in committing to produce a “Civic University Agreement” in partnership with local government and other major institutions.

The new agreement is a key recommendation in a report published today by the Civic University Commission set up by the UPP Foundation and chaired by the former Head of the Civil Service, Lord Kerslake.

The report sets out how universities have the capability, opportunity and responsibility to support the places where they are based to solve some of their most pressing and major problems.

These issues range are helping local business adapt to technological change, to boosting the health of local people, improving education for school pupils and adult learners, and training and developing new civic leaders in every field from politics to the arts.

The report aims to help universities build on the excellent work that many of them are already carrying out in these areas, working alongside councils, employers, cultural institutions, schools and further education colleges.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Birmingham said:

“Founded on Chamberlain’s vision of ‘a great school of universal instruction’ and as England’s first civic university, we have a lengthy history of playing a strong role in our community, leading the pursuit of knowledge but also investing in impactful initiatives that benefit the region, such as the University of Birmingham School. Some of our most critical research is looking at ways to address the most pressing of issues in the West Midlands, including the need to accelerate economic growth, poor air quality and youth mental health. As a sector, we need to do more to tell a compelling story about the value of higher education to everyone, not just those who attend university. As such, I am delighted to be able to commit to produce a Civic University Agreement in partnership with local government and other major partners.”

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.

“It is not just people outside university grounds who will benefit. Universities are under unprecedented challenge and need to find a broader base of support. Universities need to be part of a community which is engaged, supportive and shares objectives.”

Lord Kerslake, the chair of Sheffield Hallam University, and a former Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Communities and Local Government, added: “Universities have an irreplaceable and unique role in helping their host communities thrive – and their own success is bound up with the success of the places that gave birth to them.”

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.

“We know that many universities want to build engagement with the community around them. It’s excellent news that such an impressive list of institutions has already signed up and the UPP Foundation strongly endorses the report’s findings.”

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.

 The Civic University Agreement signed by 30 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.

For further information or broadcast bids, please contact Gabriel Milland of Public First, or call on +44 (0)7860 552 621 .

For more information about the University of Birmingham contact Dominic Benson, tel: +44 (0)121 414 5134, mob: +44 (0)7976 327067

About the UPP Foundation

The UPP Foundation is a registered charity that offers grants to universities, charities and other higher education bodies. In recent years, as higher education has expanded, the burden of paying for a degree has shifted towards the individual. This presents difficulties in maintaining the ‘University for the Public Good’, as well as ensuring there is greater equity in going to, succeeding at and benefiting from the university experience. The UPP Foundation helps universities and the wider higher education sector overcome these challenges.

The UPP Foundation was created in 2016 by University Partnerships Programme (UPP), the leading provider of on campus student accommodation infrastructure and support services in the UK.  UPP is the sole funder of the UPP Foundation. The UPP Foundation is an independent charity and all of its grants are reviewed and authorised by its Board of Trustees. The Foundation is supported by an Advisory Board. More information is available at the UPP Foundation website.

About the University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

Full text of the “Civic University Agreement Statement”

Universities are proud of the places and communities we share. They have shaped us, and we have shaped them. These may be towns, cities or even whole regions; often rural. Some universities have been civic institutions for over a century, others are civic institutions that have only relatively recently become universities. But, as a sector, we are united by our commitment to delivering opportunity and prosperity to the people and communities with whom we share our place.

Universities have long worked to support social mobility; drive innovation and economic growth; and support the cultural strength of our communities. However, the profound economic and social changes that are happening across Britain today has made the civic role of universities even more vital. The time is right, therefore, for us to focus and strengthen our efforts. Universities must examine, with purpose and with rigour, how we should fulfil our civic missions in the future.

That is why we fully support the recommendation in the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission to establish a new approach – a Civic University Agreement.

As signatories of this statement we are pledging our universities to develop Civic University Agreements. The agreements will better align our priorities with those of our local partners.  Alongside schools, further education colleges, local authorities, charities, the NHS, civil society and businesses large and small, we want to make sure our place thrives in the coming decades.

This is not how government has recently thought about universities. As the cost of paying for a degree has shifted towards students, so too have policy, regulation and incentives increasingly emphasised the private benefit of a degree over universities’ public good. Whichever way universities are funded, we believe the public and private benefits from higher education must be developed together.

The long-term funding settlement for our sector will inevitably impact on what we can do and the extent to which we can do it. This includes our civic role. However, within that constraint this statement is a commitment from us, as autonomous institutions, to continue to serve the educational, economic and societal interests of our communities and our place. We will continue to embed our civic responsibilities into the core of what we do; be this research, education or knowledge exchange. We hope that funders recognise and continue to support this.

We will publish our Civic University Agreements publicly. As we develop them, we will be driven by the following principles:

  1. As place-based institutions we are committed to attaching a high-priority to the economic, social, environmental, and cultural life of our local communities.
  2. Our civic role will be informed by an evidence-based analysis of the needs of our place, developed collaboratively with local partners and informed by the voice of our local community.
  3. We will collaborate with other universities and anchor institutions and form partnerships to overcome the challenges facing our local communities.
  4. With our partners, we will be clear about what we do and how we measure it, so we can say with confidence what we have achieved – and how we might do better in the future.

As Universities, we are responsible to our students and our staff, but we are also responsible to the places around us. Our Civic University Agreements will be an opportunity to set out clearly, coherent and creatively how we will fulfil that responsibility.