What can universities do for cities and their people?

A blog post from Professor Guy Orpen Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development. 

This was the question in our minds on 29th March. A day that was previously marked as the UK’s farewell from Europe, insteaheld the first Bristol Forum in City Hall. The landmark event was put together by the universities of Bristol and the West of England in partnership with a wide range of city organisations. 

I was on a panel answering questions from around the hall during an exciting day full of presentations, discussions and debates. The proposition was that the research capability of the universities – coupled with the knowledge and capability from the city and its people – could address local challenges. I sensed a real buzz of willingness and optimism to work together in the hall. 

The panel was asked a variety of questions. Two that particularly stuck in my mind were: 

Q: How could we make the buzz today last? 

A (from me)If we get investment and partners from outside the city to support the research, we can turn this into further action. 

Q: How could the universities contribute problem solving capacity to address the city’s challenges?” 

A: I suggested we should change this question to “How could universities help solve the problems facing the city and its communities?”We can, and should, work together on research and developing evidence to support policy making and delivery – and we’re already doing this, for example in health, through Bristol Health Partners. 

But more directly, the way the University evolves can help address some long-standing challenges our city facesAn obvious example is that the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will help open eastern access to Temple Meads for all (with the help of Network Rail, WECA and the Council). And the campus can also help create investment in the area to support new jobs and homes nearby, generating opportunities for our neighbours.  

The star of the panel was Nasra Ayub, the undergraduate officer of the Bristol Students Union. She spoke passionately about the opportunities that university life and education had given her – and lit up the meeting with evidence of the contributions students can make to the city.  

So the first Bristol Forum was a great success – but it raised as many questions as it settled. How can we get business more involved? How can we get more funding for health research and other areas to work with our city partners? How do we enable and respect participation in research by small organisations and individuals? How should we debate and resolve contentious areas of the relationships between the city and its universities?  

These questions are particularly relevant in relation to our development plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus. You can find out more about our plans here. 

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