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The Coventry City hearing - 27 August 2015

david_marlow.jpgOver the next fifty years Coventry expects further University of Warwick (UoW) success, and an even more profound university footprint in and on the city. Coventry will relentlessly leverage UoW assets, capabilities and resources - as a key component of the city's determined, dynamic ambitions.

These introductory sentiments from Councillor Ann Lucas, Leader of Coventry City Council, set the tone for the first 'hearing' of the Chancellor's Commission.

'Hearings' are an important part of the Commission process. They are opportunities for major partners and role players to present local and regional aspirations and challenges; and, as significantly, to discuss UoW contributions to them openly and honestly with Commissioners.

coventry_council_house.jpgThe August 27th Coventry City hearing was the first of at least four sessions we intend to convene. It will be followed by hearings on local, Warwickshire and 'Midlands' geographies and communities.

Chaired by Jonathan Browning, Chairman of Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (C&WLEP), and attended by two other Commissioners, we heard presentations and evidence from the City Council, Coventry University and a number of other city-based institutions. Kevin Richardson, Local Growth Advisor of HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England), also challenged the meeting with contextual national and local pressures for universities to deepen and broaden their relationship to 'place'.

It is difficult to do justice to the rich deliberations of the hearing in this short blog. However, for me, some of the key themes to emerge include:-

  • the determination of Coventry to be a 'top 10' city and global player - and the absolute commitment to address the challenges that might inhibit some citizens and communities from participating in and benefiting from city success
  • the shared agendas and collective strategic intent of city council and the two universities to deliver those ambitions - in partnership with other institutions and communities
  • the debunking of sometimes asserted trade-offs between university research or teaching excellence and local growth. Strong universities have to be able to deliver excellence and local development effectively, as transactional and transformative anchor institutions

If these bold statements might stray into 'motherhood and apple pie' territory, the hearing also recognised and considered some of the complex and difficult issues that achieving these statements in practice will entail.

Whilst, self-evidently, UoW already has huge impact, how can it increase and sustain a commitment to address the bespoke societal challenges of the city? Can distinctive and differential geographic and academic footprints of the two universities be better aligned to deliver synergies and increased positive results? How can individual 'good practice' interventions (whether research, teaching, volunteering or 'good neighbour') be scaled up into transformers for city success? Perhaps most profoundly, what is the relevance and dividends of university success for citizens and organisations who are not attendees of and have minimal direct relationships with either university?

The Commission will need to grapple with these types of question, and propose practical solutions.

The hearing discussed 'nitty-gritty' practice, with regards, for instance, to education and training (at Schools, Colleges, in workplace and communities; as well as at university-level). We considered housing and public realm; the deep social and health inequalities still manifest in some parts of the city. We recognised complexities and challenges of governance, geographies, public resourcing, and different 'business models' in proposing new initiatives. However, a number of bold initiatives were proposed - among them realising the 'City of Culture and Learning' ambition; and a major up-scaling of 'social innovation' research, development and delivery programmes.

My overwhelming impressions from the hearing was of deep shared passions for Coventry, and a willingness of attendees and their respective institutions to turn those passions into practice.

As mentioned above, this blog can only pick out a few of the strands of a wide-ranging discourse. I invite other attendees to post their own impressions and observations on Commission web pages. And there will be other opportunities over the remainder of the year for those not able to attend the hearing to participate in the Commission.

The Coventry City hearing was a valuable exercise in its own right. It has given the Commission much 'food for thought', and also reaffirms the relevance of the 'hearing' as a medium for deliberation as our work proceeds.
If readers of this blog wish to attend subsequent Warwickshire, local or Midlands hearings please contact us through these web pages.

David Marlow

28th August 2015