Professor Guy Orpen on the civic university

The University of Bristol has its roots firmly planted in the city from its formation as a civic university. When University College Bristol opened in 1876, in rented premises on Park Row, it had two professors and five lecturers offering courses in 15 subjects – with local people as students, many of them studying at night.

Drawing on a local history of education in medicine and engineering the University itself was formed in 1909 with the support of the City Council and individual citizens alike.

And it was always innovative – the University was the first higher education institution in England to admit women on an equal basis to men.

Over the past century the relationship between the city and its University has waxed and waned, but the last decade has seen a strengthening relationship as the mutual benefits to be gained have become strikingly obvious.

Bristol is a wonderful city in which to live, work and study, and for its citizens there is much to be gained from having one of the world’s top 100 universities at its heart. That said, for much of the past century neither the University or the city has actively sought to build on that mutual benefit.

This dynamic changed after the 2008 financial crash. The world now needs much closer partnership between cities, their communities and their anchor institutions, universities included, across the public, third and private sectors.

Now is the time to reimagine our University as one of the world’s great civic universities

We welcome the opportunity to build on the education and research that is our core mission by actively partnering with the health, educational, cultural, industrial, community and governmental organisations in our city-region.

We have been following this path for a decade and more. We were founder members of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol Health Partners, the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership and the Learning City Partnership – to name but a few. The University played a key role in launching the Science Park by basing the National Composites Centre we own and operate there as its anchor tenant. Likewise, the University runs the Engine Shed and the global number one SETsquared Centre at Temple Meads.

Our role is clear – we can and should work with others to change the city for the better – to create jobs, cultural, social and learning opportunities. So, what next?

The city faces great challenges in building on success in challenging times, while bridging its divisions and sharing opportunities more fairly. Similarly, the University is under tremendous competitive pressure to be able to deliver public good while public funding is on the retreat.

The good news is that we can rise to these challenges together. The Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus (TQEC) is the most visible of these opportunities. Its development is gathering pace, and the prospect of us having a campus that is for open collaboration with business, third sector partners and communities of the city has attracted great interest.

Research and innovation on the campus will co-create solutions to the challenges faced by society in Bristol and around the world – in the face of climate change, technology and demographic shifts – and bring out the talent that we need to deliver those solutions in practice.

To succeed, co-creation will require us to learn from, and partner with, our wonderful city and learn from the expertise of its diverse and challenging communities, businesses and organisations.

We invite you to join us on this journey – help us to reimagine how the University and city can work together to meet the challenges we face over the century ahead.

 

 

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