Civic universities originally emerged to meet local skills shortages in 19th century Britain’s industrial cities. The 21st century has yet to agree on a shared definition for the new civic university, but Professor John Goddard, who has written extensively on the topic, suggests that it integrates teaching, research and engagement with the outside world such that each enhances the other. Research has socio-economic impact designed in from the start and teaching has strong community involvement. Most importantly, there is a soft, flexible boundary between the institution and society.
At King’s College London – not, in its origins, within the 19th century definition of ‘civic’ – we have set out our ambition to be a civic university at the heart of London, working in mutually beneficial partnerships to serve, support and sustain London while creating distinctive learning and research opportunities for students and staff. This commitment is embedded in education and research, manifest in the students we teach and the knowledge we create. Partnerships with the capital’s institutions and organisations – from the Black Cultural Archives to 10 Downing Street – support the city’s needs while helping students make the most of London as a living classroom. Researchers draw on the lived experience of Londoners to generate new knowledge to serve those people who are both its originators and beneficiaries. There is always mutual value: a powerful example is Project ReMAKE, which sees King’s students from the Dickson Poon School of Law mentor and support ex-offenders as they start their own businesses. Students learn about the challenges that prison leavers face while the entrepreneurs receive valuable advice and guidance.
Universities always contribute most effectively to a city’s wellbeing and success when they work in partnership. This means moving from the transactional relationships of the past (which were too often asymmetric) to becoming equal and active members of networks that bring together the many players with an interest in the locality and its communities. It also means proactively engaging by focusing not on what the institution can offer, but on local needs. At King’s, we consulted closely with the three central London boroughs in which we are based to identify those areas where we could, in partnership, achieve the greatest impact. For each of London’s universities, this will be a different conversation.