Three traits of cities that successfully attract talent (and of the successful universities of the future)

A few weeks ago I was honoured to chair a panel session in Lisbon on city strategies for talent attraction, bringing together speakers from Portugal, Italy and Germany. In my opening remarks I picked three traits of cities that successfully attract talent. Because all three rely on cooperation with universities, these are also the traits of the successful universities of the future:

  1. Universities jointly collaborate with the city. Of course, this only applies where there are multiple universities. But where this is the case, institutions work together, speaking to the city with one voice, pooling resources and avoiding multiple bilateral conversations. For some great examples of this, see my recent report looking at how the universities in Toronto have produced joint research projects to benefit the city, have come together to bid for UNESCO City of Culture status, and much more.
  2. They reach marginalised communities. Universities and cities work together to spread the benefits of internationalisation to communities that are geographically more distant or otherwise may feel ‘left behind’. My report for the British Council shows how Dublin, Glasgow, Hannover and Amsterdam are working to involve marginalised communities in internationalisation activities.
  3. An entrepreneurial use of space. Successful urban universities, when forced (often through limited space) to think creatively when developing new buildings and inner-city spaces, blur the edges between the city and the university. By mixing the two and reimagining public spaces, planners can bring different groups of people together and allow new ideas to spread. Ryerson University, featured in the Toronto report, is a great example (more here). Birmingham City University’s expansion near Curzon Street station is another (more here).

The conference was organised by The Class of 2020, a Dutch think tank looking at student living. At the conference they launched their 2018 Annual Trends Report including an article by myself on what we can learn from computer games about university-city collaboration. Read it here.

Trends Report

University superpowers: universities, societal challenges and city-building

For cities and regions to prosper, local leaders will need to unlock the superpowers of their universities

Earlier this year I visited Canada to speak to city and university leaders in Toronto and the nearby city of Waterloo. A report setting out what we can learn has just been published by KPMG in the UK and is available here.

Here’s an intro:

Universities are an undervalued force for development. With a presence in nearly every major town and city in the world, they should be at the centre of regional regeneration and international partnership building. But too often they are secondary partners, or used to fill subcommittee seats.

However, some universities are leading the way in city-building efforts. They are the city’s superpower – a force for long-term prosperity and local inclusivity. They recognise that if their city is failing, they too will fail. They recognise that a skilled and connected city is a successful city. They are proactive and pragmatic. They recognise their role within the city and the mutual benefit their engagement will bring. They understand how they can help solve societal challenges, and they understand that local engagement complements international relations.

Toronto’s universities demonstrate how to excel in individual initiatives, yet come together to benefit the city. This report shows how universities in and around Toronto are using five key superpowers to work with their city and strengthen it:

  • Universities are ‘anchor tenants’, investing in the future and inspiring confidence. They send a message to fellow city residents: we believe in the prosperity of this area.
  • Universities have long-term visions. Looking beyond the cycle of mayoral appointments and provincial elections, universities are a trusted partner for future planning.
  • Universities can be critical yet constructive, outspoken yet objective. They are machines for solving problems and generating ideas, home to highly-concentrated brainpower, and steeped in knowledge and evidence.
  • Universities educate and train the future workforce. They provide the skills to build the city.
  • Universities are a window to the world, framing local issues within international debates, and bringing global discoveries to the city.

City-building is powered by universities. The next phase of city-building will see greater autonomy and leadership of individual cities. The challenges cities face will grow in complexity and severity. Universities will need to bring their superpowers and play a role at multiple levels: from developments on campus, to city-wide links, to global relations.

Universities need to adapt to work effectively with their city. And as the burden of local and global challenges falls increasingly on cities, and as future prosperity continues to depend on training and retaining the most skilled individuals, city leaders will need to unlock the superpowers of their universities.

The full report is available on the KPMG website here.

How does city reputation affect city performance?

According to researchers studying 76 Spanish cities:

we find that good city reputation is positively associated with economic activities and negatively with unemployment, but not related to net migration.

With the exception of city reputation having little association with net migration, these findings aren’t particularly surprising; indeed, the article is perhaps more notable as a sign of the emerging focus on ‘city reputation’ as a field of study. Full article in Regional Studies available here.

Incidentally, I was in Seville last week at EAIE, Europe’s largest higher education conference, presenting research on cities, universities and internationalisation, including city marketing and branding activities. See a Times Higher Education piece briefly covering the session here (towards the end).

The Regional Studies authors propose several areas of future investigation, including the dynamics of human capital (‘city reputation may attract human capital, which in turn favours city performance’). They would do well to also consider the effect of university performance and reputation on the city.

Photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash

The future of European internationalisation

The future of internationalisation is in the hands of universities and cities working together

Internationalisation is much more nuanced than international student numbers or foreign direct investment. It is a long-term game where creating an attractive, open, vibrant place to live and work is more important than fluctuations in visitor numbers; where the winners are formerly marginalised communities as well as internationally connected businesses.

BCreportDrawing on interviews I conducted with 25 senior university and city officials in four European cities, a new report funded by the British Council looks in detail at models of collaboration. Mutual influence? Universities, cities and the future of internationalisation is available to read online.

Researching and writing this report was great fun, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
 

See also: this research was presented at Going Global 2017 in London; I wrote an article for The Conversation and Times Higher Education covered the research.

 

 

No ordinary think tank

Improving economic security is a neglected policy goal. A new initiative in Nottingham seeks to address this

Guest post by Jonathan Schifferes, Associate Director – Public Services and Communities at the RSA

At the dawn of a new parliament – one which will be gripped by negotiating Britain’s international relations while also negotiating new alliances in the House of Commons – the UK gained another think tank last week.

Some political insiders explain that this kind of parliament is likely to sideline the philosophers and reformers with a policy vision for government. Instead the deal-makers, the tactical masters, and the charismatic will be in demand.

In this context, what contribution can a think tank realistically make in the coming year? At the RSA we have been working over the last two years to support the development of a new kind of think tank: one that is focused on the issues of a specific place, within an ‘anchor institution’ that itself shapes the place it is in.

Despite over a decade of devolution and localism in UK politics, there are remarkably few1 civil society organisations that have been established with a place as their focus. We hear frequent complaints of policy silos and politics centred on Westminster, yet most think tanks organise themselves around a policy issue and locate themselves in Westminster.

To generate a richer debate on the social and economic development of the UK’s towns and cities, we need to bridge the gap between the sidelined political philosophy and the daily grind of machine politics. For several years, the RSA has recognised that universities have enormous potential to drive social and economic outcomes in the places they exist – echoing calls for a new breed of ‘civic university’.

RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor gave the keynote speech last week, launching Nottingham Civic Exchange, based at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). In partnership with the university leadership, the RSA has helped shape this civic think tank – bringing together many of our Fellows across the region and pooling our research capabilities. NTU views Nottingham Civic Exchange as a key part of delivering its overall strategy.

Going to the heart of what will matter in the lives of one million people across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, the first programme of Nottingham Civic Exchange is called ‘Out of the Ordinary’. Today, NCE publishes an analysis of ‘ordinary working families’ in the city-region. Rather than simply using economic analysis to fuel Westminster soundbites, and packaging up a new demographic for electoral fodder, this study uncovers important data on Ordinary Working Families in a specific place.

Six million people define themselves as ‘just about managing’

While the struggles of the ‘squeezed middle’, ‘alarm clock Britain’ and households on low and moderate incomes have been discussed for years, what is most remarkable is that nationwide, an estimated six million people define themselves as ‘just about managing’, despite being in households with income above the national median.

In Nottingham, jobs in the caring and leisure industries are more common sources of employment compared to the UK average, and the prevailing low pay of these sectors – where women hold the majority of roles – challenges household finances. The RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission made the case for place-based industrial strategies, which will be even more crucial as the economic adjustment of leaving the EU approaches, and devolution seems likely to stall. NTU has a particular accountability to families who are ‘just about managing’ – 21% of their 2015 full time undergraduate intake is estimated to come from this background.

Through the summer, the RSA’s ongoing work with NCE will bring a further focus on economic insecurity. We think addressing economic security is a neglected policy goal, which will help bring in to focus the following:

  • The breakdown of traditional class markers. University education has expanded for the recent generation, occupational roles in the workplace are undergoing accelerating change, and home ownership is declining among adults in their 30s establishing families. The financial security previously afforded by a university degree and a white-collar job is eroding, and partly as a consequence owner-occupation is less easily accessible as a form of insurance to protect against unstable or falling incomes. As post-election analysis has suggested, ‘age is the new class’ when it comes to predicting how people align to support political parties.
  • The importance of households as a unit of analysis. Most labour market statistics, for example, look at workers as individuals. Most workers live in households and financial decisions are made in that context: 43% of people have a joint account with their partner. Families and their homes transmit wealth through the economy at a scale which dwarfs the government’s own system of tax-funded pensions. Differences in the experience of insecurity between generations remain relatively under-explored.
  • The importance of looking across the life-course rather than using snapshot data pictures. Looking at longitudinal data across Europe, the lower middle class has the highest rates of transitory poverty; moving in and out of poverty defines their economic status.
  • The economic, fiscal, social and health impacts of subjective (‘felt’) insecurity are just as, if not more potent than, the effects of objective insecurity and material deprivation. This doesn’t mean that addressing material deprivation and poverty should be neglected as policy goals. But it does mean recognising that progressing in the modern workplace brings anxieties and volatility, not necessarily the secure affluence that many crave.
  • Longer-term, a defining characteristic of our era is declining confidence that the future will be better than the past. A survey in 2015 found 25% of UK respondents thought their children would be better off than them; 68% thought they would be worse off.

Nottingham housing

My hypothesis is that in a rich country like the UK, being secure in your economic status matters alongside your absolute affluence. And overall economic inequality matters in part because it exacerbates the experience and perception of insecurity for all in society: greater inequality means there is more to gain and more to lose from a change in their position on the income spectrum.

Beyond the day-to-day parliamentary dealmaking, the election aftermath may prove be one in which austerity plans are dialled down, labour market considerations dominate Brexit talks and vote-winning policies for ‘ordinary working families’ are reconsidered. At the very least, facing a broad range of possible futures makes it a good time to be a nimble think tank.

We need more people to be more involved in policymaking

The next phase of work for Nottingham Civic Exchange will look in more detail at the lives of Ordinary Working Families through research, policy development and working with local communities to identify important issues and come up with recommendations for making changes which have real life impact. They will also link students and staff at the university with wider communities through scholarships, internships, and research projects. In line with the RSA’s wider programme on revitalising economic democracy, we need more people to be more involved in policymaking – in this parliament and beyond – if government and society is to successfully address growing economic insecurity for growing numbers of people. Through partnering with a university committed to improving the city and region it calls home, Nottingham Civic Exchange will tighten the links between policy, action and legitimacy in addressing economic insecurity.

Jonathan is Associate Director – Public Services and Communities at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). Read his posts on the RSA website here, or follow him on Twitter here.

This post originally appeared on the RSA blog.

Photos of Nottingham: top jess_k_kent1 on Flickr, middle Mr Thinktank on Flickr.


  1. We are aware of: Newcastle City Futures, Centre for London, Southern Policy Centre, Manchester New Economy. Let us know in the comments of others that we have missed. 

Internationalisation of universities and cities session at Going Global 2017

New research looks at the internationalisation strategies of cities and universities, and how they intersect

I was fortunate to join Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, and Mihnea Costiou, Rector of Politehnica University of Bucharest, as part of a panel chaired by Bianka Stege, Director of Education and Society (EU Region), British Council at last week’s Going Global conference in London.

The panel focused on the internationalisation of cities, and I presented new research funded by the British Council. You can see the slides and listen to the audio here. A summary of the research is provided as part of the highlights of day three here, and Times Higher Education covered the research here.

The full report is embargoed until the UK general election, but will be published after June 8th.

Update: the report is now available. I also wrote an article for The Conversation and Times Higher Education covered the research.

Commissions, conferences and the voice of universities

Universities can position themselves as integral to parts of the debate where their inclusion is less obvious

Last week Stephanie Flanders, former BBC economics editor, launched the emerging findings of the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission at the Core Cities summit in London. The Commission follows in the footsteps of the City Growth Commission, which informed much of the previous government’s policy on cities and devolution.

The findings argue that:

As a country we need to put social capital on a par with traditional physical infrastructure when we consider how to invest public resources in future growth. That means treating as investment, policies that are designed to bring poorer people and places up to the level where they can contribute equally to economic growth.

A similar message emerges in the ‘zero draft’ of the New Urban Agenda that will be set out at the major UN Habitat III conference in Quito next month:

We recognize that we must ensure equitable and affordable access to basic physical and social infrastructure for all, including affordable serviced land, housing, energy, water and sanitation, waste disposal, mobility, health, education, and information and communication technologies. We further recognize that provision must be sensitive to the rights and needs of women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, and other people in vulnerable situations such as refugees, migrants, and displaced persons, removing all legal, institutional, physical, and socio-economic barriers that prevent them from participating equally in urban life and the opportunities it offers.

(For more on why Habitat III is a big deal, see this excellent piece published on The Conversation.)

Many economists and policymakers have long advocated for increased investment in education and other social goods on par with physical infrastructure. The voices of the Inclusive Growth Commission and Habitat III will add weight to these arguments.

However, the beneficiaries of investment in social capital also need to speak up at the major conferences and forums. Bodies such as universities and hospitals can make the case for investment in their facilities, and the economic and social returns this generates. They can also position themselves as integral to other parts of the debate where their inclusion is less obvious, such as provision of public space: a strong case can surely be made for investing in open university campuses designed to bring people and ideas together and share knowledge. When I read these sentences in the New Urban Agenda draft, they seem almost written with universities in mind:

Public spaces, which consist of open areas such as streets, sidewalks, squares, gardens and parks, must be seen as multi-functional areas for social interaction, economic exchange, and cultural expression among a wide diversity of people and should be designed and managed to ensure human development, building peaceful and democratic societies and promoting cultural diversity.

Photo: Panorámica del Centro Histórico de Quito on Flickr

Engines and Powerhouses evidence published

In what now seems like the distant past, before the Brexit vote and the change of government, the House of Commons launched an inquiry looking at the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine and government policy towards regional growth. (You can read my thoughts on the Northern Powerhouse post-referendum here).

The written submissions to the inquiry have just been published. Of the 50 submissions, a quick count suggests that least a quarter are written by a university, a university group, or an institute based out of a university. Clearly universities are taking the regional growth agenda seriously.

Following the change of government, the committee will now look ‘more broadly at Industrial Strategy, rather than focussing on specific regional models’. Hopefully some of the good practice and lessons learned around forming strong regional links will be taken forward.

Work by Centre for Cities, looking at lessons learned from the Rhine-Ruhr (Germany) and Randstad (Netherlands) regions, found that these areas were successful not because of transport connections between their respective cities, but that ‘strong regional economies require strongly performing cities at their heart’, with a high concentration of knowledge-based businesses and highly skilled workers. This perhaps explains the high level of university engagement with regional policy in the UK.

The Rhine-Ruhr and Randstad regions were part of the inspiration for the Northern Powerhouse. Hopefully the importance of knowledge and skills as the basis for strong economies won’t be lost with a wider focus on Industrial Strategy rather than specific regional models.

I wrote Universities UK’s submission to the inquiry – read it here.

Photo: Kranhaus, Cologne on Flickr

Sim University

In Sim University YOU are the vice chancellor!

Introducing the latest instalment in the award-winning Sim franchise: manage your own university!

Will you guide a multi-faculty university to the top of the global league tables, or sit at the helm of a small specialist institution?

Will you become a pillar of your local community, helping the disadvantaged and working with small businesses? Or will you look to attract international students and form multi-country research partnerships?

You’ve just been hired. You have a board of governors on your back, local newspapers watching your every move, and students looking for jobs after graduating (and a great time before then). League tables are constantly tracking your rise or fall.

How will you balance the books and grow your reputation? Will you launch an aggressive expansion campaign, constructing lots of shiny buildings to attract students and staff, or focus on forming partnerships? Will you open overseas campuses, or build incubation centres for student startups?

How will you keep your staff and students happy? Will you pay salaries above the local average, or give free laptops to students? Your star academic is ruffling feathers – do you fire them or promote them?

In Sim University YOU are the vice chancellor!

Exclusive to the UK Brexit edition: prepare for the Teaching Excellence Framework, lobby the Home Office on student visa regulations, form regional alliances, and dabble in Higher and Degree Apprenticeships!

university_sc4-1

The case for simulators

Simulators can be a valuable testing ground. In a fascinating tour through the history of city building games, Richard Moss notes how urban planners used the original SimCity (released 1989) to test existing ideas and inspire new ones:

Playing SimCity helped develop our understanding—or mental model, as Will Wright [Sim City’s founder] calls it—of the urban environment that so much of the world’s population lives in, and it took some of the mystery out of why urban planners make the seemingly bizarre decisions that they do.

If you thought you could improve traffic flows by making the roads five times wider and staggering residential blocks with commercial and industrial ones, you could try it and see (spoiler: it doesn’t work—traffic always expands to fill road capacity, and such a zoning policy would lower land values and increase pollution). If you believed a nearby rail line was increasing crime in your area, you could model your city in the game and experiment with changes.

…the city builders of tomorrow will likely be all about exploring the future of real-world city design. After all, city builders were always—right from the very beginning—about building a utopia, and our best hope of one day achieving a perfect built environment is to practice in simulations first.1

Modern simulators have become increasingly sophisticated. One city planner has said that SimCity 4’s traffic simulator is ‘actually more advanced than what most traffic engineers use in real life’. The game has been used to model suburban sprawl.

She built more police stations in Providence than probably exist in all of Southeastern New England, swapped out the electric power plant for a nuclear one, and bulldozed the church

Others have used simulators as tests of competence for leadership roles. In a great article about the real mayors of SimCity, Jason Koebler tells the story of the 1990 Democratic primary election in Providence, Rhode Island, where a 15 year old freelancer for the local newspaper invited five mayoral candidates to compete against each other in a game of SimCity. One candidate didn’t take the test too seriously. She ‘built more police stations in Providence than probably exist in all of Southeastern New England, swapped out the electric power plant for a nuclear one, and bulldozed the church’. In a strongly-Catholic area, some felt this lost her the primary.

Some fare better. Koebler writes how in 2002 mayoral candidates in Warsaw, Poland played SimCity 3000. Lech Kaczynski won the competition, won the election, and eventually became the president of Poland.

So might there be a case for a university simulator? Universities are highly complex and higher education policy is interlinked with wider policies on economic growth, employability, skills, education, cities,2 internationalism and immigration. No two institutions are alike, and some are unrecognisable from one another. But I still think there could be some merit in a university simulator. I don’t suggest Sim University would make a good selection exercise for prospective vice chancellors, but we could test new ideas and also understand the complexity of effectively managing a university. I might be the only person who would play it though…

Images from SimCity 4


  1. Here is an example of a game created by a professor from the University of Southern California School of Architecture that aims to contribute to the discussion about the future of cities. 
  2. Incidentally, SimCity 4 confirms the important role universities play in cities. Josh Dzieza in the Daily Beast: ‘Education in SimCity is a sort of wonder drug: if you build a university, people get sick less, commit less crime, build solar panels on their roofs, get wealthier, and are generally better off. They also start to complain more about bad city services and pollution, so depending on what sort of Sim mayor you are it could have drawbacks.’ 

Four reasons to look at universities and urbanism in Ghana

Universities meet education and skills needs, but are also local development actors in their own right. In Ghana they can play an important role in both

Ghana faces a set of challenges similar to many emerging nations…

Ghana is an ‘African Lion’: a fast-growing economy, falling levels of vulnerable employment and rising productive employment led to Ghana becoming a lower-middle income country in 2007. However, there are skills gaps in the areas of medicine and health, engineering and technical skills, limited job opportunities in the formal sector for those leaving university, and the proportion of the labour force leaving tertiary education rose just 2 percent to 5.4 percent from 1992 to 2013.

…including the transition to a ‘knowledge economy’

In a paper submitted to the African Center for Economic Transformation, Baah-Boateng and Baffour-Awuah lament the gap that opened in per capita income between Ghana and South Korea from 1950 – when incomes were broadly similar – to today, when South Korea’s output is six times higher. They cite a World Bank paper that suggests ‘at least half of the difference is due to South Korea’s success in acquiring and using knowledge’. Their paper finishes with a strong set of policy recommendations (that are applicable nearly anywhere in the world), including the participation of industry in curriculum design, more internships during courses, placing university staff in industry, and government intervention to subside expensive technical courses at public universities.1

As I’ve noted before, creating better jobs requires making difficult decisions in education policy to match labour market demand.

Ghana

Ghana is a case study of global urbanisation…

In 2015 51.9 percent of Ghana’s population lived in urban areas, broadly similar to 54 percent globally in 2014. Ghana’s urban population will reach 72.3 percent by 2050, in line with 70 percent globally. Urbanisation is moving much faster than planning.

…which will bring challenges universities can help solve

UN Habitat recommends government collaboration with universities in Ghana to improve planning and to address sustainable urban planning principles. Accra, for example, is at risk of flooding and – as Rotterdam has demonstrated – universities can help city planners to simultaneously prepare against disasters and create a better place to live and work.

In the Greater Accra region, 40 kilometres from the capital, the new urban area of Ningo-Prampram is rapidly growing. Urban strategies stress the ‘very limited timeframe to avoid unplanned sprawl and transform Ningo-Prampram into a thriving and prosperous compact, connected, socially inclusive and resilient city, which would be a sustainable development example for the country of Ghana and for the region as a whole’. A ‘university city’ in the northeast would offer ‘residential areas and services for students, professors and researchers, developing innovative agriculture and forestry processes that are tested in the fertile central park and the northern irrigation lands, improving crop production and fostering food security’. This is an excellent example of the campus working with the city to test new ideas before rolling them out further – seen elsewhere in the form of smart campuses.

Photos: Cape Coast and Ghana on Flickr


  1. Although there are objections from within Ghana’s universities to relying on the taxpayer for funding.