Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Turning Cold Spots Hot

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Turning Cold Spots Hot

Article excerpt

Universities' long-time role in helping local economic and social growth has room to expand, Madeleine Atkins says

There is renewed interest in the roles that universities and colleges can play as "placemakers" or "anchor institutions" in their locales. This is not a new story, of course: it is one that builds on a long tradition of local engagement by higher education institutions, many established in the 19th century to accelerate regional economic growth and social prosperity. But we are entering a new chapter of that story.

In part this has been sparked by the sector's engagement with local enterprise partnerships and local authorities, supported by European or regional funding. In part it reflects an increasing commitment to multidisciplinary research that addresses societal "grand challenges". The creation of local "living laboratories" at scale, for example, brings universities together with local partners to test possible solutions to problems. There are other drivers, too, not least universities' interaction with Catapult centres, which develop ideas into new products and services.

We need to deepen our understanding of the ways universities can "power up" productive relationships between economic, social and cultural players in their area, and educate the 21st-century "local graduate" as well as the global one. We need not look far for examples. University incubators and business parks are starting to support innovative social enterprises as well as conventional commercial start-ups. Widening participation activities, traditionally designed to raise aspiration, are now complemented by university sponsorship of schools. A recent report by Universities UK and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Forging Futures: Building Higher Level Skills through University and Employer Collaboration, shows that new kinds of technical education and training are being designed at bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels, to complement more traditional routes through higher education to employment. Universities have always had a role in supporting inward investment. Now some are also adopting local theatres, galleries and museums that might otherwise close. And we know from sector financial projections that significant capital investment in campuses is set to continue, contributing to local economic growth. …

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