From Ivory Tower to the Non-Campus Campus
University interventions in the urban landscape
Clare Melhuish PhD is Director and Senior Research Associate in the UCL Urban Laboratory, a cross-disciplinary centre for research, teaching and public engagement on cities and urbanisation.
Last June, the UK government confirmed it would grant £100m of funding towards the cost of building a new academic site for University College London, home of the UCL Urban Laboratory, as part of the newly-named East Bank legacy development of the Olympic Park in London. The commitment represents a significant vote of confidence in the capacity and intention of the university to contribute as a catalyst for the regeneration of east London. To put this in context, a 2008 survey of 35 UK universities found that over two-thirds ‘stated that their institutions had dedicated urban regeneration teams’, but only three were engaged in urban regeneration initiatives as property developers through spatial development projects. Two reported that they ‘simply did not see regeneration and community engagement as relevant activities for a HEI’, and the remaining 30 were engaged in urban regeneration through various types of social engagement and outreach activity. A decade later however, universities have come under increasing pressure to make a contribution to wider local regeneration initiatives; many more universities now are engaging in spatial development initiatives as so-called ‘anchor institutions’ and ‘place-makers’ in urban regeneration projects, as I documented in my 2015 publication, Case Studies in University-led urban regeneration, looking at a number of UK and US campus development projects. Research shows that they also widely perceived in that role by the public as relatively benign and trustworthy compared to conventional commercial developers.
- 13% - Not EU
- 6% - EU
- 81% - UK
- 42% - International
SOURCE: UK Universities International, 2018, Higher Education 2018 – International facts and figures.
- 10,9% - Not EU
- 15,5% - EU
UK government policy has stressed the need for universities to work harder with new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) on Strategic Economic Plans towards local growth. In 2014, a five-point framework for a university-wide renewal of principles around place-making and social engagement was announced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Failing to anticipate the European Referendum of 2016, it declared the arrival of the 39 LEPs and European Structural Funds for regional development as the only secure source of funding for universities over the coming years, due to cuts in public funding for higher education and increased competition for students. Universities were urged to address five specific areas: engagement with local schools; local skills agendas; social innovation and social enterprise; cultural engagement; and local economic growth.
To put this in context, a 2008 survey of 35 UK universities found that over two-thirds ‘stated that their institutions had dedicated urban regeneration teams’, but only three were engaged in urban regeneration initiatives as property developers through spatial development projects
Last June I was invited to participate as respondent in a discussion at the Italian Cultural Institute in London which considered the changing operational context for higher education institutions in the European context. It highlighted the impact of the Bologna Process on European universities, especially the increased mobility and precarity of faculty staff across the common European arena for higher education which it created. The starting point was a presentation by the authors of the book Territori della Conoscenza. Un progetto per Cagliari e la sua università (Knowledge Territories. A project for Cagliari and its university), which examines how university architecture is responding to the new conditions – including the promotion of student-centered learning strategies and facilities, the emergence of the student-entrepreneur, and the development of new kinds of relationships between universities and their host cities. During the discussion, the contemporary transformation of uni-versity campuses, driven by the market logic of neoliberal regimes, was compared to the revolution in university design and construction which occurred in reponse to the massification of higher education during the 1960s.
As in the UK, universities across Europe are being promoted as agents of urban regeneration both because they can generate economic activity and produce skilled localised workforces to power the knowledge economy, and offer stability and sticky capital as anchors for development with a long-term commitment to place and community participation. They are being asked to invest in widening participation programmes locally and increase access to students from non-traditional backgrounds, but at the same time many are under pressure also to ‘internationalise’, by attracting more students and staff from overseas, teaching some courses in English, and maintaining their institutional rankings in the international league tables.
This presents a challenge to universities to balance local, place-based demands and global reach equitably.
Teachers and students in universities have been described by the American historian Thomas Bender as living at once in a local place and in a trans-local culture of international scholarship, which they must constantly bring together in fruitful and mutually beneficial ways. Across UK universities (and university cities) in 2016-17, 81% of undergraduate students were from the UK, with 6% from the EU and 13% from the rest of the world, but 42% of students at postgraduate level were from outside the UK, with a large majority of international students coming from China at both levels. 27% of the academic staff in UK universities were from overseas in the same year, with 15.6% from the EU and 10.9% from outside the EU. Internationalisation demands that we consider the impact of university cultures and spatial interventions on the wider urban landscape – both big cosmopolitan cities, made up of many diverse and mobile communities, and smaller towns characterised by greater homogeneity in cultural identity.
Stuart Hall identified two key factors in changes to received understandings of ‘a shared national identity’ – firstly, ‘the democratisation process’, and secondly, the critique of the Enlightenment ideal of dispassionate universal knowledge… coupled with a rising cultural relativism which is part of the growing de-centring of the West and western-oriented or Eurocentric grand-narratives. These changes have had a significant influence on the ways in which universities frame their institutional identities and missions, and their relationships with other communities, especially in multi-ethnic European cities, with whom they seek to engage in the construction of a shared urban, rather than national heritage. In this context we increasingly see HE institutions promoting a rhetoric of urban regeneration, community participation, and inclusion – the so-called third or civic mission – which focuses on a neighbourhood scale of engagement, addressing urban inequalities, diversity, and widening access to urban space and resources.
The University of Gothenburg in Sweden, for example, is developing a project with Akademiska Hus (the government enterprise which owns and manages university buildings), for consolidation of its Arts and Humanities faculties in the centre of the city at Campus Näckrosen which will also provide a place to engage with the problems of migrants in need of intellectual shelter in the city – ‘A place for the unexpected, integrated into the city structure’, where people from different places and with different backgrounds will meet and work together... This is a key issue for Gothenburg, which has been a host city for incoming migrants and refugees particularly from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa since the 1990s, with a dramatic increase in recent years which has led to heightened political tensions around issues of integration, segregation and conflict in the city’s suburbs. In another example, both the University of Copenhagen and the IT University have been key actors in the creation of Copenhagen’s Ørestad knowledge quarter – a Development Corporation project in the poorest area of Copenhagen which has been positioned as both ‘a strong asset in the capital’s competition with other metropolitan areas’ and an initiative in the creation of a new urban life.
In common with many top-down, large-scale Urban Development Projects, Ørestad has had its critics, particularly with regard to local participation and benefit. Certainly, if we think about the key mechanisms of social exclusion, the challenges for equitable development in the urban context are profound. There is certainly a body of opinion that for universities to try to fix this range of structural issues as urban regeneration actors is well beyond their remit as at least partly publicly-funded higher education institutions; yet a growing expectation that they will find the ways and means to do so, as Wiewel and Perry have indicated: The urban location and centrality of universities to the nature and well-being of cities means that cities and countries can be expected to turn to their universities as part of strategies to respond to the new challenges and opportunities that global economic competitition poses for urban regions.
If this is indeed the case, then universities need to grasp the capacity and potential which they have as power-houses of critical thinking and influence, as well as urban landowners and developers, and embrace a role as agents of inclusive, equitable, cosmopolitan urbanism. As so-called anchor institutions, collaboratories, living laboratories, planning animateurs, and non-campus campuses, universities as institutions, working in partnership with other urban actors, are well-positioned to develop new kinds of social and spatial resources that can help to make cities better places.
 Robinson, C. and Adams, N., 2008, Unlocking the potential: the role of universities in pursuing regeneration and promoting sutainable communities. Local Economy 23:4, 277-289
 Melhuish, C., 2015, Case Studies in University-led urban regeneration. London: UCL Urban Laboratory
 Witty Review of Universities and Growth, 2013
 Melhuish, C., 2014
 Puddu, S., Tattara, M., Zuddas, F., and Graziani, S., 2017, Territori della Conoscenza. Un progetto per Cagliari e la sua università. (Knowledge Territories. A project for Cagliari and its university). Quodlibet
 to use the term coined by Maurrasse (2001)
 Hall, S., 1999, Whose heritage? Unsettling ‘the heritage’, re-imagining the post-nation, Third Text 49, 3-13
 University of Gothenburg Project Vision, 5th March 2013
 Copenhagen Growing, By & Havn
 Majoor, S., 2015, Urban Megaprojects in Crisis? Ørestad Copenhagen Revisited, European Planning Studies, 23: 12, pp 2497-2515; Moulaert, F., Arantxa Rodriguez, and Erik Swyngedouw, 2003, The Globalized City: Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities: Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities.Oxford: OUP
 Short-term flexible work contracts and restricted workforce progression, combined with financial penalisation resulting from insecure income; remotely located housing with poor healthcare, education services and transport provision; fragmentation of family units across areas (due to housing allocations and lack of affordable options) which reduces opportunities for interaction and informal support; and exclusion of ‘problem’ communities from decision-making (as set out by Benneworth, P., ed., 2013, University engagement with socially excluded communities. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media)
 Wiewel and Perry, 2008, Global Universities and Urban Development: case studies and analysis. M. E. Sharpe and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; see also Perry and Wiewel, 2005, The university as urban developer: case studies and analysis. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
 Benneworth, P., and Hospers, G-J., 2007, Urban competitiveness in the knowledge economy: universities as new planning animateurs’, Progress in Planning 67, 105-197
 Hayward, J., 2001, Breaking the mould: the surprising story of Stockton. The first te years of the University of Durhamm’s Stockton Campus, OxCHEPS Occasional Paper No. 3. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies