Universities as anchor institutions
Reported by Dr Milena Mueller Santos, CAPE Project Coordinator, CSaP
The Centre for Science and Policy continued its series of in-person seminars on social infrastructure topics in collaboration with the British Academy on 26 May 2022, with a discussion on universities as anchor institutions. Nicola Buckley, Associate Director, Centre for Science and Policy, chaired the panel discussion.
Dr Molly Morgan Jones, Director of Policy, The British Academy, situated the topic of universities as anchor institutions within the discussions around place and social infrastructure. She emphasised that universities could be placemakers but that this function needed institutional support which might differ according to local circumstances, rejecting the idea of a one-size-fits-all model.
Professor Andy Westwood, Vice Dean for Social Responsibility in the Faculty of Humanities and Professor of Government Practice, University of Manchester, explored tensions and challenges of universities as anchor institutions. He emphasised that one role of the Civic University Commission was to remind policy makers that place and regional context mattered and of the role of universities in place-based policy. He argued further that this approach could provide greater legitimacy to universities’ key activities and contribute to policy development around levelling up and regional inequalities. He also mentioned the importance of human, intangible, financial, physical, and institutional capital regarding the question how universities could contribute to levelling up and concluded that, as we emerge from the pandemic, universities clearly matter and their numerous impacts could be better understood.
Stephen Meek, Director of the Institute for Policy and Engagement, University of Nottingham, explored what it means to be an anchor institution. Using the example of the University of Nottingham and the Universities for Nottingham civic agreement, he shared some key figures about the impacts the universities in Nottingham have on local economies, job creation, research and development, and skills development. He emphasised that this impact could be multiplied by implementing a deliberate strategy and also highlighted the challenges if universities are asked to wear too many ‘hats’. He also explored the notions of universities as local and national anchor institutions and emphasised that universities could have relevant expertise beyond their immediate local contexts.
A lively discussion followed looking at the role of the applied research system, local innovation systems and productivity. The importance of taking a strategic approach to coordinating innovation and skills provision was emphasised. It was highlighted that universities could be world leading regarding research, develop international partnerships and – at the same time - contribute to local communities. There was consensus that British universities are international actors but also form an intrinsic part of the local community. This was compared and contrasted with international examples of civic universities and the participants explored possible learning points from international examples. The particular contribution the British Academy can make through drawing upon social science and humanities disciplines to build a fuller understanding of the role of universities in place-based policy making was also highlighted.