Stepping Up into 2022

Students holding tablets and phone talk in university lobby

When I heard my blog celebrating how London’s universities are stepping up for their city had made it into BIG South London’s ‘top five’ most popular blogs of 2021, I was keen to seize the moment and look at how London’s higher education institutions are strategically placed as we look forward into the new year.

Locally, thanks to sub-regional initiatives like BIG South London, universities and higher education colleges in the capital are starting 2022 in a strong position of partnership, and are already sharing their knowledge, expertise and facilities for the benefit and economic recovery of local businesses and communities.

At London Higher – the representative body for the UK’s higher education powerhouse in London – we have been busy capturing some of the ways in which higher education institutions are working with partners within and beyond the sector to improve the lives of those in their localities in the first iteration of The London Higher Civic Map.

Launched in December 2021, the map reveals the depth and diversity of university-led, placed-based collaborations and shows how London’s higher education institutions are coming together to tackle some of the most pressing issues within London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London, including promoting business growth and fostering community cohesion.

In the five South London boroughs that are home to the BIG South London programme, policymakers can draw on the resources of at least 11 different educational institutions in the area, plus the support of other London Higher members elsewhere in the city.

To give you a flavour of the many ways in which London Higher members are enhancing South London:

  • In Croydon, the University of Roehampton is the official higher education partner of Crystal Palace Football Club and collaborates on projects with young people and schools to raise aspirations. London South Bank University has also recently announced an innovative new programme for SMEs in the borough to boost their post-pandemic recovery and is working with eight Croydon barbershops in a UK-first to boost local health outcomes and spot incidences of high blood pressure.
  • In Kingston, the new Town House at Kingston University, which won the 2021 RIBA Sterling Prize, acts as a “civic beacon” in its mission to build a bridge between the University and its surroundings. The University is also committed to the cultural regeneration of the borough and was instrumental in bringing the Rose Theatre to Kingston, while continuing to offer it financial and artistic support.
  • In Merton, the University of Roehampton, as the principal education partner and sponsor of the Wimbledon Bookfest, supports educational projects in the borough and delivers a range of linked events for schools, colleges and the local community.
  • In Richmond, the Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s University Twickenham sits on the Richmond Employment and Skills Taskforce, which aims to combat the impact of Covid-19 and its effects on the local labour market. More broadly, the University has built strong relationships with many local employers and community organisations in the borough and works with the local Business Improvement District to provide employment and recruitment support, as well as skills development.
  • Finally, in Sutton, given the borough’s leading role in The London Cancer Hub, the Institute of Cancer Research is developing a schools outreach programme to promote careers in research as part of a long-term partnership with Harris Academy Sutton, and has rolled out a “Connecting with Communities” scheme to help meet the needs and interests of the borough’s diverse population.

Despite all this good work going on in South London’s local communities, there are still no guarantees that the Government will look kindly upon the capital and its higher education institutions in this year’s parliamentary business.

Certainly, the mood music around the Levelling Up White Paper, expected imminently, suggests London could be overlooked either in favour of devolution to regional mayors outside big cities or by reallocating infrastructure funding along a policy of what I call “EBL” – that’s “Everywhere But London”.

In the higher education sector, we certainly saw the “EBL approach” applied last year when London’s universities and higher education colleges were stripped of £64-million-worth of London Weighting funding, which was then reallocated to institutions across England, excluding those in London.

Should the “EBL approach” end up underpinning the Government’s wider plan for levelling up this year, then one thing is for certain: London’s higher education institutions are going to become even more important to their regions – stepping in to share essential knowledge and support, and stepping up to build or enhance partnerships locally.

We start 2022 with a large deal of levelling up still to be done within London. Universities and higher education colleges are proving themselves to be one of the capital’s most valuable assets in this process.

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Diana Beech



Posted 14/01/22

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