Over the past few months we have been talking to our staff, students, alumni and stakeholders about the purpose, ambition and vision for our University. Through the Our Future initiative we have received nearly 700 comments and thoughts from more than 4,000 people. There was a huge breadth of fascinating ideas, but also some common themes.
One of strongest themes to emerge was the critical importance of and great pride in our location. Our position in the city of Manchester and the city region of Greater Manchester (GM) has shaped the university that we are today and will be an important consideration in shaping our future. With an economy that is growing faster than London’s, Manchester positions itself as the original modern city and as a place where things happen – I think both of these also apply to our University.
Many people, both within and outside our region, point to the strength of partnerships and a shared vision as a key reason for the success of Manchester. These partnerships operate at many levels between the University and businesses, regional government and other sectors.
This partnership working was noted by Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service, when he visited us last year as part of the review of the role of civic universities. It also came through in a recent dinner we hosted for GM’s ‘anchor institutions’, longstanding organisations with close associations to the region that have a significant economic and social impact. As one attendee put it, the best examples of anchor institutions are universities and cathedrals.
Our location is important in all three of our current core goals of world-class research, outstanding learning and student experience and social responsibility. Much of our research relates to matters that affect our region, such as business, education, history, multilingual societies, inequalities, culture, and inclusive growth and policy. Our success at innovation is attracting companies, jobs and wealth creators to the region, and helping to develop entrepreneurs. Our students make a huge contribution to GM, not only economically but also through the extensive volunteering they undertake, and now (in marked contrast to ten years ago) more than half of our graduates choose to stay in the north-west.
Perhaps most important is how embedded our social responsibility activities are in our region. These include our award-winning School Governor Initiative, where our staff and alumni are encouraged to help govern in local state schools. We are also a major partner in The Works, which has helped more than 4,000 local people into work, including many long-term unemployed. We have many other interactions with our local communities.
We have consciously tried to make our campus more open and welcoming to our neighbours. As one councillor put it to me in a public meeting: “Ten years ago the University was like the Vatican – impenetrable. Now we feel welcome.” We have opened up walkways from west to east across our campus (which was just not possible in the past), developed more green spaces including the already very popular Brunswick Park, and last year welcomed 1.3 million visitors into our public places (Manchester Museum, the Whitworth, The John Rylands Library and Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre). We also have many events that are open to our neighbours, such as our annual Community Festival.
Our close partnerships rely on some significant commitments and contributions. We work very closely with the GM Combined Authority (GMCA) and Manchester City Council on a whole range of issues, from the local industrial strategy to helping to improve educational attainment. I am a member of the GM Local Enterprise Partnership, serve on the board of Heath Innovation Manchester and chair Corridor Manchester (representing partners around the Oxford Road corridor), while many other staff perform key roles in our region. We have regular meetings between senior University staff and GMCA leaders, and I meet frequently with our elected mayor, Andy Burnham, and the leaders of the GMCA and the city council.
I am sometimes asked if our local commitment contradicts our global ambitions. My answer is not at all. Manchester is an incredibly diverse and globally connected city, it has been for centuries, since its core role in the cotton trade and the Industrial Revolution. Our University is similarly diverse with a global reach and many growing international links. Our city is where we have our roots and is one of our distinctive features, but our ambitions are global. As my predecessor Professor Alan Gilbert said, one of the most important things we can do for GM is to be recognised as a leading international university.
As our University begins to make decisions about our future, we may want to change some things significantly. However, one thing that we will not be changing is our pride in, commitment to and partnership with the Manchester city region.