University heads have teamed up with local councils on a project aimed at driving growth, redesigning public services and strengthening ties between local communities and higher education institutions.
The Leading Places Project, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), will be rolled out in numerous regions across the country later this month. The first tranche of pilots will be carried out in Gloucestershire, Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead, Brighton and West Sussex, Bristol and Coventry/Warwickshire.
Under the scheme, vice-chancellors and council chief executives will meet to discuss local priorities with guidance from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. It is hoped that the project will boost job prospects through university researchers identifying skills gaps, and new workers receiving training to fill them. Hefce and Universities UK will work with the Local Government Association (LGA) to help the pilots and evaluate their performance.
Madeleine Atkins, Hefce’s chief executive, said universities had a “key role to play as place makers” within local communities.
“They bring a wide range of expertise and research capability to apply to the challenges facing local government and their partners,” she said. “The Cities and Devolution Act opens up new forms of investment funding, and new opportunities to tackle the issues which affect people’s lives. Strong collaborative leadership will be more important than ever in driving these agendas.”
Research from the Leadership Foundation has highlighted the potential for universities to benefit their local communities, with numerous councils now looking to engage with them more actively.
“Cooperation with universities will give councils access to greater expertise and research opportunities,” said Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board and leader of Gloucestershire County Council. “This is about applying local knowledge to solve problems as well as putting universities at the heart of creating local growth opportunities, innovation and skills.”
Nicola Dandridge, Universities UK chief executive, said the “deep roots” universities already had in their local area meant the project was an ideal opportunity to be “even more ambitious” about what can be achieved to benefit local people.