The civic university: introduction

Liz Todd, Simin Davoudi, Mark Shucksmith, Mel Steer

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The relationship between the city and the university has ebbed and flowed since the early medieval universities became integrated into the cities. In the UK, the 13th-century ‘town and gown’ adversarial relationships, exemplified in the establishment of the University of Cambridge, are now often replaced by attempts on both sides to create fruitful collaborations (Madanipour and Davoudi, 2017). It has become clear that their fortunes are often tightly entwined, especially in smaller cities with large universities (Benneworth et al, 2010) such as Newcastle. Here, the city's 19th-century industrial origin of shipbuilding, mining, heavy engineering and agriculture provided the foundation for the disciplinary strengths of Newcastle University and its advances in the development of professional training in these fields, as well as newly emerging professional fields such as architecture, planning, teaching and arts. These earlier connections became less tangible and direct from the mid 20th-century for a number of reasons, notably, the globalisation of the higher education sector, the growing neoliberal emphasis on competitiveness in both student recruitment and research funding, and the encroachment of ‘new public management’ approaches to academic performance and university rankings. International academic publications trumped local civic engagement in the universities’ order of priorities. It was not until the last decade or so that the latter began to be foregrounded, partly due to a change in the way universities’ research excellence was nationally assessed, giving weight to its non-academic impacts as well as its academic excellence (Davoudi, 2015; Laing et al, 2017).

It is within this historical context that the concept of the civic university was promoted to capture not only a utilitarian ideal of mutually beneficial links between cities and universities, but also an ethical ideal of serving the cities in which universities are located and directly responding to the needs of local communities. Newcastle University was among the pioneers in adopting this approach and, since 2012, has become a torch-bearer of the civic university ideal. The case studies in this part of the book examine the extent to which this ideal has been materialised and how. To some extent, universities themselves have been cushioned by student fee income from the austerity experienced in other spheres, such as the public sector. It is therefore even more important to ask: what is the role of universities in turbulent and challenging times?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHope under neoliberal austerity
Subtitle of host publicationresponses from civil society and civic universities
EditorsMel Steer, Simin Davoudi, Mark Shucksmith, Liz Todd
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherPolicy Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781447356851, 9781447356844
ISBN (Print)9781447356820
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2021


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