In light of the developing Covid-19 public health emergency, the immediate priority of all universities is to focus on the safety of their students and staff, as well as implement measures to continue their education offer. Once these plans have been put in place, many civic universities will be actively working to support their local communities overcome the long-term social and economic challenges that will result from this crisis.
With these priorities in mind, the first aim of the Civic University Network will be to encourage an impactful sector response to the spread of Covid-19, while also recognising that universities will be under immense pressure in the coming weeks and months. This will involve issuing supportive guidance and best practice case studies to all universities, and providing opportunities for university civic leads to discuss and collaborate with each other and key sectors, such as the NHS and local government, on joint approaches.
The Network will be working with Universities UK, the NHS Confederation and other key sector bodies to develop this coordinated response to the challenges ahead. By facilitating a shared approach to the pandemic among all universities, the Network will aim to be at the leading edge of the sector’s long-term response to the economic and social challenges presented by Coronavirus.
To support these priorities, Sheffield Hallam University will now be receiving £145,000 to establish the Civic University Network, following the Arts Council’s decision to award £20,000 of additional seed funding. This builds upon the original £50,000 and £25,000 contributions from the UPP Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust respectively, as well as the Department for Education’s £50,000 funding award.
The winning bid was selected following a rigorous assessment process which included shortlisting by a judging panel and a subsequent interview. The panel for deciding the winning proposal included: Richard Brabner (Director, UPP Foundation), Professor Mary Stuart (Vice-Chancellor, University of Lincoln and UPP Foundation Trustee), Professor John Goddard OBE (Vice-Chair, Civic University Commission), Pippa Coutts (Policy Manager, Carnegie UK Trust) and Smita Jamdar (Partner, Shakespeare Martineau).
As Sheffield Hallam, the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement and The Institute of Community Studies lead the development of the Civic University Network and prioritise a coordinated sector response to the spread of Coronavirus, they will be supported by other network partners: University of Glasgow, University of Newcastle, Queen Mary University of London, and University of Birmingham. The involvement of the NCCPE and The Institute of Community Studies will ensure that strong links are made to their extensive networks and expertise in engaging the public with research and knowledge exchange, while also supporting universities co-produce and implement Civic University Agreements with local communities.
The Civic University Network was one of the key recommendations from the UPP Foundation’s Civic University Commission. Beyond coordinating a long-term sector response to Covid-19, the Network will support universities which have committed to developing a Civic University Agreement through the sharing of best practice. The Network will support signatories – developing strategies that are rooted in a robust analysis of local needs and opportunities – by hosting events, creating a peer-review scheme for civic engagement and support, and publishing reports and toolkits to guide the development and implementation of CUAs.
"The Network will have a vital role in helping to coordinate a long-term sector response to helping communities overcome the social and economic challenges arising from the spread of Coronavirus."
Richard Brabner, Director of the UPP Foundation, said: “We are delighted that Sheffield Hallam University will be hosting the Civic University Network and we’re looking forward to working with all of their partners and the Network’s funders to get this initiative off the ground. It is vital that this happens quickly. Right now, universities are focused on the needs of their students and staff but when the sector has put its immediate plans in place there are numerous activities they can develop to support their local communities. The Network will have a vital role in helping to coordinate a long-term sector response to helping communities overcome the social and economic challenges arising from the spread of Coronavirus. The civic role of universities will be particularly important in developing shared community responses during this time of crisis.”
Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor, said: “At Sheffield Hallam, we have always emphasised the importance of community. In these challenging times, it’s all the more important that universities meet their obligations to society. There really has never been a time when universities’ civic role has been more important than it is now. We look forward to leading the Civic University Network, working with our partner organisations. The Network will be a vital way to support our communities in the months and years ahead.”
Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan MP, said: “We need the whole country to pull its efforts together in the fight against coronavirus, and our universities are already playing an important part in this. I am confident universities will support their communities’ local response, mobilising students and staff and helping health services in the challenges ahead. I am also pleased Sheffield Hallam will become the host of the Civic University Network, helping our world-leading universities to improve their relationships in their towns and cities.”
The Arts Council, which provided a £20,000 funding boost to the Civic University Network, is supporting the initiative in order to help develop and better understand the role which culture can play in the Civic University Agreements. The organisation is interested in exploring and evidencing the benefits of a cultural approach to local community-building and integration – an approach which lies at the heart of the Civic University Network.
Jane Tarr, Director (North) and Director for Skills and Workforce, said: “At the moment, ensuring the people and organisations that make up our arts, museums and libraries are protected during the Coronavirus crisis is the Arts Council’s number one priority. Alongside that, we’re thinking about the long term health of the sector and therefore welcome the establishment of the Civic University Network and Sheffield Hallam University's key appointment as the hub organisation. Partnerships with Higher Education Institutions and place-shaping remain integral to our work and to the delivery of Let’s Create, Arts Council England’s new 10 year strategy for 2020-2030. We’re pleased to be supporting this network to better understand and further develop the role of HEIs within their communities as we know that role fosters talent, culture and creativity.”
Niall Dickson, CEO of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS and university sector have a long and proud history of working closely to enrich local communities. This relationship is now more important than ever. The NHS, along with other public services, is being stretched to its limits and is reliant on the support, ideas and ingenuity of local partners, and especially universities. The examples we are hearing from clinicians on the ground of how NHS organisations and universities are working together are inspirational and give us confidence for the coming months. The NHS Confederation is looking forward to working with the Civic University Network, not only throughout the current pandemic, but also afterwards as we attempt to support our local communities to come back together both socially and economically.”