England & Wales Education and children's services

Viewpoint: Universities in the London ecosystem – completing the puzzle

Jane Glanville, CEO, London Higher explains how London universities and local authorities can work together to create public value – and invites you to be part of the discussion.

As CEO of London Higher, the umbrella body that supports over 40 higher education institutions in the city, the complexities and excitement of working in a city that has so many layers strikes me every day. London Higher operates at all levels of university administration, from the institutional heads downwards, hosting networks and forums for discussion and generating joint action around areas of mutual interest.

What do we do?

The premise for our work is simple: we aim to ensure that, when they collaborate, our member universities equate to more than the sum of their parts. Areas of specific work include research and innovation, entrepreneurship, European engagement, marketing London as a study destination, broadening access to higher education for disadvantaged groups, and medical and health education. Recently we have begun coordinating a forum (‘London Higher International’) focused on the benefits of international engagement for universities. Each year we also run a series of events and meetings, some for our members and some which are open, to debate topical themes or to engage with interesting and influential people.

Our London Urban Research Network is a good example of what we do. Started in 2017, this network currently comprises seven London universities and aims to help them focus attention on the urban challenges identified in the Mayor’s London Plan. By creating a nexus for universities and local authorities to discuss these challenges at an early stage of exploration, we hope to usher new and stimulating ideas towards fundable research opportunities to help London and its residents.

What motivates universities to engage in this (and other) activity at the local level?

Whilst the concept of universities as ‘anchor institutions’ is well established, at least in the higher education sector, it remains a rather nebulous concept. Universities tend to point to the four main examples: Engagement with schools and the community, the local skills agenda, social innovation and enterprise and university-business interaction.[1] The hoped-for goal is a ‘virtuous cycle’ – whereby highly skilled jobs meet an educated and ambitious local residency, and contribute to research and innovation with targeted economic support offering local growth and development.

It would be a bold university or local authority leader who claimed everything being done to create public value for a city happens on their particular patch. There may be successful examples, but the reality may be more recognisable as a lot of activities – not always joined-up, scaled-up or mutually aware. This is not to criticise. In Camden and Islington alone there are over 10 universities and so it is no surprise the map is a complex one. In a true world city like London complexity is a fact of life.

However, there are plenty of drivers for universities and local authorities across London to move towards a more strategic approach to their big initiatives – even if that is just to find out what is working and pass the message on. At London Higher we want to be a part of the discussion and we would welcome engagement with our local authority counterparts across the city.

Join the debate

One important discussion along these lines is about the international nature of the city and its universities. We are holding a Parliamentary breakfast devoted to the topic on the 27th of June, and London’s councillors are more than welcome to attend (see registration link below). I hope to see you there…

Register for event

[1] http://blog.hefce.ac.uk/2015/03/16/universities-as-anchor-institutions/