Westminster Higher Education Forum

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UK universities and their contribution to local and regional development - the developing policy landscape, opportunities, practicalities, and impact

May 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference focuses on key developments and next steps for strengthening the relation between UK universities and their local communities.

The conference takes place in the context of a range of policy initiatives with a direct bearing on HEIs which are being put in place to support economic and societal recovery in the wake of COVID-19 and Brexit, as well as the government’s drive to reduce regional inequalities.

These include measures aimed at encouraging a greater contribution from universities to their local areas, backed by:

  • the Higher Education Restructuring Regime
  • the R&D Roadmap and the upcoming R&D Place Strategy
  • the Strength in Places Fund and The Industrial Strategy

Areas for discussion at this conference include:

  • how policy is being designed and implemented - its likely effectiveness and impact on universities
  • the potential scale and nature of the HE contribution - and the range of options and approaches being pursued in the sector
  • practicalities of implementation - in areas such as setting strategy and further developing ties and knowledge exchange with local government and industry
  • measuring the local impact of universities
  • priority areas of focus - including HEI contribution in areas such as local healthcare and education systems, the creative industries and regional employment
  • the outlook for universities and regional innovation going forward

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from BEIS; DIT; DfE; DfE, NI; HMRC; HM Treasury; the Home Office; the IPO; MHCLG; the NAO; the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (ROI); The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government.

The agenda:

  • UK universities and their developing role in regional development
  • Improving knowledge exchange between universities and industry
  • The role of universities in supporting local recovery and growth in the wake of the pandemic - developing effective partnerships between HEIs, councils and businesses, and priorities in areas where the impact has been greatest
  • Next steps for the Strength in Places Fund
  • Community engagement in higher education: new developments in Europe and future directions
  • Measuring the local impact of UK universities
  • Focus areas for providing place-based benefits
    • Contributing to regional healthcare capacity and workforce development
    • Next steps for HEI outreach to local schools
    • Improving collaboration between the HE sector and creative industries
  • The outlook for universities and regional innovation going forward

Key areas for discussion:

The role of universities in supporting local recovery post-pandemic:

  • partnerships between local HEIs:
    • research - building on the greater collaborative efforts seen during the pandemic
    • strategy - working together to define institutional missions and ensure their relevance to local needs
  • priorities in left-behind areas - with the health and economic effects of COVID-19 having been felt the hardest in England’s post-industrial towns, including discussion on:
    • targeting funding and resources
    • improving communication - such as the sharing of best practice between regions, as well as between local authorities and policymakers
    • international collaboration - dovetailing with global efforts to widen the evidence-base and improve best practice around levelling up regions that have been negatively impacted by the industrial transition, as well as learning from overseas initiatives
  • university-industry collaboration - strengthening links to help identify and address key skills gaps, such as in STEM industries, as well as:
    • aligning HE courses with local needs
    • work placements - fostering employment opportunities for HE students and graduates with local businesses to support their retention and contribution to the area’s workforce
  • effective targeting of research funding - how best to maximise the potential from major related research funds, such as the Strength in Places Fund and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

Measuring the local impact of UK universities:

  • use of HE frameworks - assessing the role of frameworks such as REF, KEF and TEF in measuring civic engagement and the benefits provided by universities to local areas
  • specific metrics and proxy measures - defining accurate proxies for measuring HEI local impact, and differentiating from measures of student outcomes or performance
  • cost-benefit for HEIs - examining options for incentivising universities to boost local growth through existing frameworks, balanced with policy to reduce unnecessary administration and bureaucracy

Priority areas for where HEIs can contribute to their communities:

  • health workforce - assessing the impact of recent initiatives, such as extra university places and funding for nursing apprenticeships, on local economies and regional healthcare capacities, and next steps for co-operation between local NHS trusts and HE R&D systems
  • educational outreach - strengthening partnership initiatives with local schools and colleges, boosting remote and in-person tutoring and mentoring, sharing best practice and resources, and raising attainment and widening participation in HE
  • the creative industries - looking at how to embed HEIs better into their local creative clusters, supporting town centre and high street regeneration through partnerships with key local actors, as well as improving knowledge exchange and boosting innovation

The discussion in context - relevant background:

  • the Higher Education Restructuring Regime - which includes:
    • an offer of support to HEIs that are at risk of financial insolvency due to the impact of the pandemic
    • the condition that providers examine what more they can do to support the nation’s future, including in terms of:
      • regional focus - refining institutional missions so that they are integrated firmly with specific local needs
      • ensuring quality - providing courses that are consistently high quality
      • concentrating on subjects of significance to the economy and society - such as nursing, teaching and STEM subjects
  • results for the first iteration of the Knowledge Exchange Framework - released by UKRI, showing for the first time a detailed account of the different ways English universities have been supporting local development, engaging with their communities and stimulating local growth
  • Building on success: a new focus for Uni Connect - plans for the next phase have been released, following a recent OfS consultation on the programme, which is composed of 29 local partnerships seeking to strengthen HE outreach to colleges and schools through activities such as mentoring, campus visits, and master classes, with focus areas for the next phase including:
    • supporting adult learners into higher education
    • improving the evidence-base around what works in HE outreach
    • addressing ‘cold spots’ in outreach
  • The Strength in Places Fund - the UKRI fund investing in research and innovation projects driving economic growth in specific areas of the UK
  • ‘Levelling Up’ - the role of universities in supporting the ‘levelling up’ agenda, as well as in tackling the expected crisis in employment in the wake of the pandemic, following recent research reports by the UPP Foundation, and the continued work of the Civic University Commission, with recommendations such as:
    • community development - for a part of the Towns Fund to be allocated towards a co-operative partnership between universities and civic actors for redeveloping local town centres
    • tutoring and mentoring - for universities to work with charities and other civil society organisations to deliver a tutoring scheme for helping to tackle widening gaps in educational attainment post-pandemic
    • supporting the NHS - designating universities as the main ‘surge capacity’ provider for public health crises through an NHS-funded ‘NHS capacity fund,’ enabling them to run a surplus capacity of medical staff, kit, facilities and research that can be deployed by the NHS on short notice as surge capacity
    • R&D in post-industrial towns - for the Shared Prosperity Fund to support a major research programme examining practical ways that universities can help tackle post-industrial decline
  • skills and workforce shortages in key sectors and policy responses, including:
    • Extra university places for vital courses announced - the announcement of additional university spaces being allowed in nursing, engineering and science to help support economic recovery post-pandemic in key sectors and to meet workforce shortages
    • New funding to double nursing apprentices and help deliver 50,000 more nurses - a recent government support package worth £172m for improving the accessibility to nursing careers by enabling employers to train up to 2,000 nursing apprentices through degree apprenticeships for the next four years
  • related long-term government strategies, including:
    • the R&D Roadmap - outlining the UK’s ambitions to harness its R&D system to deliver societal benefits, including developments such as:
      • public investment in R&D to be increased to £22bn per year by 2024-25
      • working with universities to ensure they can deliver greater impact, benefits and outcomes from public funding
      • the upcoming R&D Place Strategy - for ensuring the R&D system is fully dovetailed with the levelling up agenda and supports regional growth and benefits across the UK
    • the Industrial Strategy - setting out plans for investing in and developing the industries, skills and infrastructure of the future in the UK, including place-based development as one of the five main foundations of productivity
  • the new Civic Mission Framework by Universities Wales - the first of its kind in the UK, helping Welsh universities to improve how they work with and benefit their local communities
  • White students who are left behind: the importance of place - a blog by the Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students highlighting best practice from universities in working with local schools and colleges to improve university access

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from BEIS; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport; the Department for Education; the Department for International Trade; the Department for the Economy, NI; HM Revenue & Customs; HM Treasury; the Home Office; the Intellectual Property Office; the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government; the National Audit Office; the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (ROI); the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials from DfE and other Government departments and agencies, together with senior university leaders and widening access representatives, local authorities, LEPs, businesses and entrepreneurs, industry representatives from the creative, health and technological sectors, student union representatives, research funding bodies, teaching unions and other professional bodies, HE regulators, academics, consultancies and think tanks along with commentators and reporters from national and trade media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Shortly after every Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates