arrow-down Arrow Left Arrow Right UPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsUPP-Foundation-Logo-AssetsInstagram Facebook Instagram Instagram Linkedin Linkedin Instagram twitter twitter video-play

Civic University Commission

Civic University Commission – the public’s view

26th April 2018 by rachel publicfirst

Our opinion research finds clear differences in the public's views on universities

To launch the Civic University commission, Public First conducted some focus groups (which you can read about here) and a poll across ten cities with universities. We wanted to understand whether universities had a real problem with reputation and engagement.

Do universities have a problem?

Given the commentary over the last two years, we might have assumed that local populations have strained relationships with their universities. On first glance, that’s not true. An average of 58% respondents said they were “proud” of their local universities, and just 7% said they were “not proud”. 28% said they were “indifferent” to their local universities. This was also true in our focus groups – which were in two cities. In both, participants across groups felt pride in their universities. There was a sense the universities “put them on the map”. For example, participants in one city were able to identify the fact there are several famous scientists teaching at the city’s main university. There was also a clear understanding that the local NHS benefited from the presence of high-quality universities locally.

But there are big variations – geographically and between classes. This showed up in our focus groups: better educated, civically involved people were very positive. For others, universities dominated the town and large expanding student populations could be a serious nuisance.

The poll found that the less affluent are much less likely to have been to the university. Only 19% of social group ABC1 respondents had never visited their local university across the 10 cities. For social group C2DE that figure was higher, with 30% of respondents on average across the 10 cities never having visited a local campus. There’s also a big regional difference: just 21% had been to their local university in the last 12 months in Bradford, compared to 59% in Norwich.

An average of 35% of people in the cities surveyed were unable to name a single thing that their local university had done to engage the local community. Again, this masked big differences between areas: respondents in the smaller cities surveyed were much more likely to answer “none” or “don’t know” when presented with a list of measures such as open lectures or assisting local schools and asked whether their local university had done anything similar. Again, this was backed up by our focus groups – the views of those where the university was a larger presence (because in a smaller place) were more negative for the non-civic group.

Interestingly, the most common ‘top benefits’ of universities were innovative research being carried out locally, and students from other countries coming to the city to study. Given a common view in the UK that immigration should decrease, this is noteworthy.

What does this mean for the commission?

The purpose of the Civic University Commission is to make substantive policy recommendations to government and to universities in answer to two questions:

1)     How can universities be both local and global?

2)     What should a civic university in the 21st Century look like?

With regard to the first question, if a university is to be relevant to – and to engage with – every stratum of its city’s population, “being local” has to be something more than holding open lectures. The challenge for the Commission is to understand what this “something more” is.

On the second question, a clear challenge for the Commission will be to make recommendations that are relevant to universities regardless of their location, and address the simple fact that large numbers of students in university towns and cities creates challenges as well as benefits.

As we receive evidence from the large number of organisations and individuals that are engaging in the commission, we will be asking whether we are understanding the causes of our findings with the public, and have credible ideas for how to change perception and reality.

rachel publicfirst

Related News

Recruit a ‘civic army’ of 75,000 young people to do good work and boost youth employment, demands coalition of charities

29.05.20 | Uncategorised

UPP Foundation Announces 2020 Grants

22.04.20 | News

Sheffield Hallam University wins bid to host UPP Foundation’s Civic University Network

27.03.20 | Civic University Commission

Organisations backing the Civic University Network

27.03.20 | Civic University Commission

Place-based funding must be linked to the public’s priorities

27.02.20 | Uncategorised

A Tale of a Divided Britain

19.02.20 | Uncategorised

UPP Foundation receives £50,000 funding boost from Department for Education for Civic University Network

16.01.20 | Civic University Commission

UPP Foundation backs ‘University Mental Health Charter’ with £100k grant

09.12.19 | News

Contact UPP Foundation

The UPP Foundation is a grant-making body and a public policy platform, working to encourage collaboration and innovation within the higher education sector.

If you would like to contribute to this discourse or find out more about the UPP Foundation please get in touch.

Join Our Mailing List

Sign up for updates from the UPP Foundation including a monthly newsletter and the latest news, grants, research and events.

40 Gracechurch Street,
London EC3V 0BT
Get directions ›

+44 (0)20 7398 7200