Our discussion is happening at the University of Ravensbourne, and through the window we can see another block of towers that is almost ready for people to move. "We're very new to the area, but so is everything else," said Drew. She says that after the Millennium Dome was built "there was not much else here." "The developers decided that this was an area for design and digital, and that's where we fit in." She is especially proud of the deal she negotiated with 02 when she arrived: the students now do internships there and the university has a job Advertising board for any part-time job at the center. She recalls that the institution was on call for a Take That tour, with the students and staff involved in a flashmob event. "They crowded into that, and I got thank-you letters that said 'I can not believe I met Take That!'", Laughs.
How catastrophic would the death of a local university be?
Last week, the President of the Student Office, Michael Barber, said the regulator would protect the interests of students, but it would not rescue a failed university. Drew is angry about the implications of this. "If a failure occurs in a hospital, the communities feel completely abandoned as a result of the withdrawal of those services." He warns that the total economic and social impact of a university is rarely understood, and that local people do not realize how much their university contributed to their services and lives until it has disappeared.
Stuart emphasizes that it is the responsibility of a vice chancellor to make her institution "sustainable and successful", but she agrees with the impact of losing one. She says that eliminating a university that is well integrated into her local community does not just mean a loss of jobs. Lincoln, for example, has intervened to rescue art projects that the local authority can not support. "If they took us out of our community, they would leave," he says.
She believes that Barber's argument is part of a paradigm of universities that deal with "private goods," which says that the sector itself "unfortunately bought." "Universities have never had to do with the benefits that individuals obtain," he insists. "We have to make sure we stick to that social purpose, it's absolutely vital, we're there as a public good."
Would it be easier to lose an institution in London ?
Drew says it would be less easy than it seems, because London's universities are part of an intricate social ecosystem. Ravensbourne works with the other two institutions of higher education in Greenwich, but also with universities of higher education, the NHS and community groups. "If you had to eliminate part of that ecosystem, the rest would be without funds, not only less rich, but actually without them."
How do you attract locals who think your university is not for them?
Stuart says that Lincoln is designed as an open campus. There is a walkway from one part of the city to the center of the city that goes directly through the campus, and the university conducts guided tours. "But there are still people who feel that this is not for them," he admits.
To avoid this, each year they administer an emerging social science park in a different local development. There is a legal clinic, which Stuart says is very important after the government's legal aid cuts, and parents can talk to education academics about how to deal with their children's school. Locals are encouraged to visit the university's law clinic for follow-up. "Doing these things in community settings helps break down barriers in a way that tries to force people into the campus," says Stuart. "Growth in an area is excellent, but if it is not inclusive growth, then it will create greater disparity and we all know what is being done with our world at this time."
But operating in a capital city on high terrorist alert means that Ravensbourne has to think more about student safety. "This is a high security area, so we must be very careful with the way we invite people to the campus," explains Drew. As a result, much of your commitment to local people occurs in other parts of the county. However, the university uses its digital experience to attract the local population, offering courses of small and retired skills that are highly subsidized by the local authority. "We cover everything from how to manage social networks to how to take the perfect Instagram photo," says Drew.
Do your graduates stay and work locally?
Stuart says that approximately 45% of Lincoln graduates stay in the town, and many of those who leave do so with regret. "It's difficult because we have to create those postgraduate jobs," he explains. The university has worked with many local companies to help them establish new training schemes for graduates, and runs innovation centers where there are opportunities for graduates to work in new companies.
Many Ravensbourne students came from the area in the first place. Like Lincoln, the university tries to ensure that local jobs are available by working with the local authority and other partners. "But because many of our graduates are at the innovative end of creativity and technology, many will enter our own incubation centers and then the accelerators," he says. "Staying in London is a way to create a creative identity."
Are we focusing too much on the local economic impact?
"I'm definitely thinking beyond the economic," says Drew. "We are developing skills such as resilience and developing the role of a graduate as a citizen, which is really important here in what used to be a depressed part of London."
Stuart argues that employers will not go to a region if there is nothing for their employees outside of work, and this is one of the reasons why their university is trying to make Lincoln a better place to live.
But he adds that the government is still too concentrated on the big metropolitans. "The people in my part of the world are in a 'big little city,' as the Americans call them, and we do not recognize those cities properly in this country." She firmly believes that we do not know enough about people living in rural and coastal areas, and universities should be a key part in addressing the problems they face, including the lack of jobs and opportunities.
What do universities need to improve locally?
Stuart quickly points out that "some universities are not as integrated in their communities as they should be. "She argues that each university will have many employees who are doing things at the local level, such as being the governor of a local school or participating in artistic activities in the community. "Top management often does not even know about those things, but they need to discover and value them." However, he warns that institutions need a clear civic strategy, or they will end up being attracted in many different directions.
Drew's advice, as a small specialized institution, is that you can not do much without others. "You need to be connected in a meaningful way with many other bodies in your area," he says.