Closing the gap: Leicester opens debate on higher education partnership and collaboration

Posted by er134 at Oct 15, 2013 02:08 PM |
Particular focus at University of Leicester conference on collaboration between ‘town and gown’

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 15 October 2013

The University of Leicester is to host the first part of a conference series exploring the benefits of partnership and collaboration in higher education and beyond.

Organised by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), Action on Access (AoA), the Forum for Access and Continuing Education (FACE), and the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL), the conference will focus on ‘Institutional engagement: partnership and collaboration in a changing environment.’

It takes place on Thursday 17 October in the Charles Wilson Building, University of Leicester.

As higher education faces tough challenges, and, conversely, as more and more people study at a higher level, the conference will question precisely what role do higher education institutions (HEIs) now play in society?

Many universities—such as large civic universities like Birmingham and Manchester, as well as newer institutions such as the Universities of Lincoln and Plymouth—were founded with a ‘civic’ mission. That mission, in brief, is to contribute to the cultural, social and economic life of their city or region: to avoid a gap between “town” and “gown”. Older institutions were founded by civic leaders who saw higher education as essential to the survival of big industrial cities; newer universities were founded in part upon the idea that they would be part of a network of ‘anchor institutions’, including schools and employers, that held significant responsibilities within the region.

However, while most universities take these roles seriously, the ‘civic’ mission has often been marginalised in the past. Now a range of factors are reversing that trend, such as:

  • The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)’s introduction of social and economic ‘impact’ as part of its criteria for funding research
  • the widening participation agenda, driven by the Office of Fair Access
  • the localism agenda: the expectation that HEIs will contribute to the leadership of their locality
  • the economic recession, forcing HEIs to think about their role in society and what contribution they are making, and
  • pressure on HEIs to improve public understanding of their activities.

The conference series seeks to respond to these factors, examining partnership and collaboration by HEIs. It will explore a myriad of aspects including, particularly, engagement with other institutions such as schools, adult education colleges, local authorities and employers—as well as with the wider community. The series will showcase some of the best practice in the sector, with talks from a range of keynote speakers, and so provide delegates with the means to develop their own action plans for civic engagement by their institutions.

Paul Stanistreet, NIACE’s Lead on Higher Education Policy, said: "A number of critical policy agendas are converging to make higher education engagement with communities, employers and institutional partners more important than ever.

“More and more, institutions are placing community engagement at the heart of what they do. Where it is done best, HEI engagement is characterised by committed leadership, a strong sense of mission embedded across the institution, a commitment to listening to and dialogue with key partners, and the provision of support, encouragement and resources for staff and students to develop and participate in the work. But there are significant challenges too. The picture overall is quite mixed, and there is clear potential to do more and to do things better.”

The Leicester event will offer delegates the chance to share examples of wider engagement by institutions—such as the University of Leicester’s recent project to improve lives in disadvantaged areas. Delegates will be able to consider what makes for good collaboration, and explore the role of HEIs as ‘anchor institutions’, as well as the challenges facing higher education as a whole.

The event will begin with an introduction by David Hughes, chief executive of NIACE, and Jackie Dunne, Honorary Secretary of the UALL, followed five keynote talks:

  • ‘Research, schools and public engagement’, by Jean Baxter of the University of Leicester, at 10:50
  • ‘De Montfort University’s Square Mile Project – working in partnership with the local community’, by Sarah Thomson, Acting Director of Strategic Partnerships, De Montfort University (11:05)
  • ‘Why collaboration matters – how it can survive in a competitive environment’, by Ian Clinton, chief executive and principal of Blackburn College (11:20)
  • ‘Working together in a new mayoral environment – opportunities and challenges’, by Matthew Cliff, Operations Manager, Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice, University of Liverpool Management School (13:30)
  • ‘Institutions working in partnership with their universities’ by Ged Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council (14:40)


"We hope this series of conferences will contribute to the further development of this agenda, bringing together a wide range of colleagues from higher education with experts, politicians and partners and collaborators from the public, private and community sectors,” Mr. Stanistreet said. “At NIACE we have long argued that HEIs are key public bodies with important civic duties to wider society. Discussing what precisely this entails is timely and necessary, if the potential of HEIs as key civic and community partners is to be realised and civic engagement is to become one of the guiding principles of HEI activity.”


£ 69 - reduced fee for members of FACE, UALL, AoA and NIACE
£100 - full fee


NIACE Events Team ( Tel: 0116 204 2833




FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT Ed Melia, Head of Media, NIACE on 0116 204 4248

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