In the latest of our blog series, Dr Phillipa Lloyd examines what it means to be civic in such a diverse city

Souls are being searched, evidence gathered, and vital conversations initiated as UK universities look to re-shape their role and responsibilities within their local area. But with a population of roughly 9 million people[1], and home to around 90 higher education providers[2], what does it mean to be civic in London?

Civic University Agreements are now in development across the UK, with promising examples of thoughtful collaborations – including those between multiple universities, NHS Trusts and local authorities. We are beginning to see the multifaceted, historical relationships between these anchor institutions explored, and routes to a partnership greater than the sum of our parts mapped out.

While steps towards collaboration can be complex in a city this vast, the Covid19 crisis has pushed us to meet the challenge head on. From council taskforces set up to address local needs, to NHS partnerships around the provision of protective equipment or testing facilities, London universities have responded similarly to those across the UK. But when the dust settles, and local need is greater than ever before, how do we ensure that those speedily formed partnerships can be sustained strategically?

This isn’t the only question that comes to mind. How do we begin to draw a geographical line around our individual and collective social and economic impact as universities, or identify all of the people and organisations connected to our work? How do we ensure we listen to the right voices, and take on a role that meets local needs, not just our own? Through civic engagement, can we take on more collective responsibility for addressing our city’s stark inequalities? And how can we make space for and learn from different approaches to civic responsibility, recognising the diverse makeup of our city?

In some ways, the idea of ‘place’ is embedded in Queen Mary University of London. Queen Mary’s founding institutions were dedicated to improving the health and education opportunities of the people of east London. Even today, many of our students come from the local area – and a large proportion of our staff live in east London too. But even with a strong sense that we are local, the questions of how to navigate civic engagement and responsibility in an area comprising of around 2 million people – with all of the schools, colleges, hospitals, local authorities, businesses, charities and community organisations needed to sustain daily life – are no less challenging to answer.

Which is why I’m really pleased to be hosting the first London Forum of the Civic University Network alongside the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. Open to all London-based Civic University Network members, as well as other higher education institutions exploring their civic responsibilities in London, I hope this will be our first step in supporting each other to define what it means to be civic in London. I look forward to seeing you there.

Philippa Lloyd, October 2020

The Civic University Network – London Forum is taking place on Wednesday 11th November 10:00-12:00 – find out more and book your place.

[1] Population by borough 1939 to 2039, Greater London Authority, 2015


Dr Philippa Lloyd is Vice Principal of Policy & Strategic Partnerships, Queen Mary University of London and a member of the Civic University Network Partners Group

Dr Philippa Lloyd