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Putting the University in its place?

In the UK, a political and media critique has emerged that alleges that UK universities have become too focused on their global activities, to the detriment of the communities and places in which they are based.
Connect News and views Putting the University in its place?

The purpose and value of universities has become a major topic of political debate. With our international campuses in Ningbo, China and Semenyih, Malaysia, the University of Nottingham has become a distinctively global institution over the last 20 years. But has this come at the expense of a focus on our civic responsibilities to communities in the East Midlands? Or is the accusation of a zero-sum game between the University's global and local engagement inaccurate?

"In the UK and other countries, there has been a sense that universities risk losing public consent for the way in which they operate, with politicians now challenging our autonomy and independence," explains Alex Favier, Director of Global and Political Affairs at the University of Nottingham.

“While universities have started to talk about their local societal, cultural and economic impact, these messages haven’t always been effective or meaningful. We’ve been a lead player in establishing a national ‘Civic University Commission’ to look at the role and responsibilities of universities in the 21st century.

"Historically, we haven't always been the best at telling the stories of what we do locally – I think because we have over-relied on highlighting our incidental economic impact as opposed to what we want our intentional contribution to be.

“This is why we are embedding a renewed global civic mission within our new University strategy and have launched a number of new initiatives in this area that demonstrate our intent to deliver real benefits to the communities in which all of our campuses are based.”

In the UK and other countries, there has been a sense that universities risk losing public consent for the way in which they operate, with politicians now challenging our autonomy and independence.
Alex Favier, Director of Global and Political Affairs

Nottingham has some difficult problems to solve. It was recently named by the Office for National Statistics as the UK’s ‘poorest city’ for the fifth time in seven years – and it was ranked as having the worst prospects for children and young people out of 150 local areas in the Youth Opportunity Index.

“One of the first things we’ve done is to establish the ‘Universities for Nottingham’: the name of a new civic engagement partnership with Nottingham Trent University," continues Alex.

Illustration of the famous Nottingham Robin Hood statue with a much-loved icon of the University of Nottingham campus - the Canada goose!

"Rather than having two separate strategies to support our local area, it makes more sense for us to join things up where our efforts could complement each other.

"This gives us the ability to drive greater change when working with other civic partners. This could include tackling the major social mobility deficit we have in the region for example, or promoting Nottingham as a place to live, work, study and invest.

“This is not about being overly presumptuous or telling others how they should do things. Nor is it about us seeking to exceed our remit or capabilities as a world-class university. Instead, it is about encouraging a more sensitive 'civic conscience' to our core activity.

"It is about engaging with partners, identifying where their needs and our strengths align. This unique ability to think, convene and deliver for a city was one of the founding principles of this University. We are committed to improving the prosperity, life chances and opportunities for the people of Nottingham and beyond.”

Civic pride – three ways we're championing Nottingham

1. We're teeming up with iconic Nottingham brands

We were delighted when internationally renowned fashion designer Sir Paul Smith visited our Ingenuity Lab and gave a Vice-Chancellor’s lecture last year. Now, we are thrilled to announce a new “Paul Smith for University of Nottingham” limited edition collection of merchandise, which will launch globally on the Paul Smith website in spring/summer 2020. We hope the partnership will support local jobs and exports, and give two great Nottingham institutions the chance to jointly fly the flag for the city on the international stage.

Visit Paul Smith online >

2. We’re creating the Universities for Nottingham

Building on our pioneering Nottingham in Parliament Day in 2016, this sector-leading partnership with Nottingham Trent University will transform the way we work together to deliver civic good. Launching in early 2020, we will be the first in the UK to undertake a combined economic, social and cultural impact assessment. This will become the foundation of a “Universities for Nottingham Civic Agreement” with local partners, focused on driving transformative change for the people and place of Nottingham.

Discover more: Universities for Nottingham > 

3. Ingenuity: ideas to "Change Nottingham, Change the world" 

The Ingenuity Event has become one of the UK’s biggest entrepreneurship competitions, awarding £150,000 in prize money at the 2019 final. Open to the public for the first time this year, the event attracted people from corporate, civic and community organisations, as well as other universities. In its four-year history, Ingenuity has attracted over 2,000 innovators, awarded over £500,000 of seed funding and created some world-class businesses. With partner support, we now plan to reach out from Nottingham to deliver greater social impact.

Discover more: Ingenuity19 >