“Citiversities” in the Financial Times

The core industry of city states in a globalised world?

It’s always interesting to read about the role of universities in cities, especially when the university in question is the one where you are studying for a PhD on universities and cities. This time, it is the FT looking at UCL’s rapid expansion into east London following reports of academic unease over the institution’s plans.

There’s a quite a bit to unpick in the article, from universities as city brands (a big part of this work for the British Council), to the globalisation of higher education and the forces compelling relentless campus expansion within urban areas.

But the crux of the article is this:

UCL is not alone in seeking to expand to secure its place in the world’s premier league of universities. New York University, founded at about the same time, has opened a technology hub in Brooklyn, and Columbia is thrusting into West Harlem as part of a $6bn growth plan. It is hard to walk through cities without coming across construction sites for new college campuses.

With the conclusion that:

Perhaps a better way to regard urban institutions such as UCL is not as multiversities but “citiversities” — the core industry of city states in a globalised world. Attending them, for better and worse, is quite different from going to a little liberal arts college such as Oberlin in Ohio.

The notion of a ‘citiversity’ is a nice inversion of the ‘univercity’ popularised by the RSA. Have we been looking at the relationship the wrong way around – do universities help build cities, or do cities cultivate their universities? The answer is probably the slightly boring one – a bit of both (a case study in point here).

Photo:Samuel Zeller

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