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Universities failing to co-operate on global refugee crisis

By Clare Melhuish, on 17 November 2015

Competition between universities and market fundamentalism have resulted in a failure of universities to take joint action on the global refugee crisis, writes Rajani Naidoo in University World News (09/10/15).

She says that, ‘While there are important exceptions, the delay in engaging with the current refugee crisis is symptomatic of higher education’s reluctance to engage with wider issues of global wellbeing. The struggle for positional advantage in the global economy and for highly skilled knowledge workers has contributed to a fierce competition within and between national systems of higher education’.

She points out that the refugee crisis is not the problem of one country but has global dimensions and ‘can only be solved by countries and citizens working together’.

She blames global rankings for promoting a ‘competition fetish’, and the encroachment of ‘market relations and market values… into all areas of higher education. There are pressures for deregulation and for success to be measured by the sheer numbers of fee-paying students, research involvement with business interests and the degree of financial surplus acquired’.

Naidoo spoke at the symposium on Higher Education, Global Wellbeing and the Refugee Crisis held at the University of Bath on Sept 30th by the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) South-West Network. The conference called for universities to develop partnerships with universities across the Middle East to help tackle the causes and effects of the refugee crisis, and to participate actively in rebuilding higher education in post-conflict situations more widely.

In Syria, academics, universities and students have been targeted for attack, and many have fled into exile. While some are assisted by scholarships to join universities overseas, many others are living in refugee camps without any prospect of completing their education. Syrian universities used to provide a safe space where religious and cultural differences could be set aside, but became targets of government repression and now lie in ruins. However, those institutions, through their staff and students, will be key to rebuilding the country’s future. In order to reach that point, they need the support of the world’s higher education community.

Rajani Naidoo is professor of higher education and director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM) at the University of Bath, UK.

 

 

How can universities contribute to housing stability in regeneration areas?

By Clare Melhuish, on 2 November 2015

Only a few days prior to the shocking murder of a middle-aged Westfield Stratford City shopper by teenagers from neighbouring Ilford last week, University Square Stratford had hosted a conference nearby which highlighted the hopes invested in universities for the transformation of opportunities locally, and in perceptions of the Stratford area more widely.

Paul Brickell – formerly a professor of molecular hematology at UCL and now Executive Director of Regeneration and Community Partnerships for the LLDC – stressed that Stratford is ‘not just cheap land’, and outlined a structured vision of local job creation which dates back 20 years, starting with entry-level retail jobs and progressing to high-skill jobs in engineering and technology in which university relocations to the area have a large part to play.

He described how the construction of new bus and train stations as part of HS1 (Channel Tunnel Rail Link) provided the initial impetus for the Stratford City mixed-use development concept. The idea of hosting the Olympics on the site was floated at the end of the 1990s with a view to putting Stratford on an international map and ‘getting young people and businesses excited about change’, he said. The development now includes the International Quarter, still under development, and containing not only the Stratford City shopping centre, office and hotel space, but also new residential development (East Village – 16,400 new homes) converted from the former Olympic athletes’ village, a school, Chobham Academy, and community facilities.

The opening of Westfield shopping centre in 2011, a year in advance of the Olympics, was vital to the creation of ‘first entry jobs’ in retail, Brickell explained, following on from the new construction jobs generated by development both on Stratford City and the Olympic park – of which he maintained a minimum of 35% had been filled by local people, rising at times to 60%. ‘We’ve relentlessly focused on getting young people into jobs’, he stated, working closely with contractors to recruit local apprentices and promote construction as an industry, especially in the context of Stratford where ‘making and designing things’ is integral to local history, and, he said, ‘coming back here’.

The arrival of University of East London and Birkbeck College in 2013, as the innovative University Square Stratford partnership, represented a significant initiative towards widening access to higher education – and by implication higher-skilled jobs – in the area. USS specialises in providing flexible part- and full-time courses that run in the evenings as well as day-time, in order to accommodate adult learners who need to organise their time around other commitments. Their intervention has been followed by Loughborough University’s opening of courses in design, enterprise and entrepreneurship, digital technologies, sport business, diplomacy and international governance, at the new ‘innovation quarter’ centered on HereEast, the Olympic park’s former media and press centre neighbouring Hackney Wick to the north-west. Early next year Hackney Community College will join the complex, along with UCL Bartlett’s Institute of Robotics, promoting jobs in technology and the translation of Stratford’s artisan and manufacturing past into a knowledge economy-led future.

By 2019 UCL East is set to bring new research and teaching in engineering, urbanism, and other areas, to the southern end of the park close to Stratford High Street, while the opening of new facilities for the London College of Fashion on Stratford Waterfront, as part of a ‘major new destination in arts and culture’, as well as a new bioscience technology park at Pudding Mill to the south-west, would, said Brickell, crystallise the area’s image as world-leading on the academic side, with potential to spin-off world-leading business ventures – and high-skill job opportunities – from that.

In light of these developments, Brickell described himself as ‘confident that young people in [local] schools have the idea that the future brings opportunities and jobs’. But subsequent speakers suggested there is no guarantee that local people will be able to access those jobs, since current developments in the housing market are leading to the removal of many of Stratford’s existing families away from the area and the replacement of what Phil Cohen (UEL) described as ‘the precariat by the salariat’.

Even though the new East Village development has provided 50% affordable homes (approx £1600 pcm in rent), ‘better than anywhere else in London [at 30%]’, according to Brickell (with six of its own designated community engagement officers to mediate social relationships among tenants on different tenures), Paul Watt (Birkbeck) emphasised that 80% of market rent still represents between 52% and 41% of median wages across the boroughs Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. He also accused Newham of intent to bulldoze its council estates and turn them into brownfield sites for development (by institutions such as UCL), while 40% of ‘right-to-buy’ properties have ended up in the hands of private landlords. He explained that Newham prioritises housing allocation to those in the armed forces, in employment on low incomes, and those who make a contribution to the local community, following guidance provided by the Localism Act, and in line with their own ‘resilience’, or ‘Quid pro quo’ approach, but argued that this effectively reinstates a Victorian concept of the ‘undeserving poor’, especially the stigmatisation of lone parents as ‘unproductive and unworthy of state support’ because they cannot work.

This in turn has generated ‘processes of expulsion’ from the borough (Newham has the highest rate of repossessions in the whole country) and ‘fantastic instability’, said Watt, in schools, due to the disruption in children’s housing circumstances. In such circumstances, many local children’s educational opportunities and ideas of the future will be permanently blighted. In which case, the solution surely cannot be simply to ship them out to another borough to deal with (as indeed some of London’s richer boroughs are said to be doing to Newham).

Perhaps then universities framed as agents of economic regeneration need to be looking for ways to address the fundamental question of local housing stability as well, in order to give any guarantee to young people that the jobs and opportunities they bring will indeed be available to them as local citizens in the future.

London’s Turning‘ was a symposium organised by LivingMaps at USS on Saturday 24th October 2015.

Tower Hamlets challenges university’s move out of borough

By Clare Melhuish, on 22 October 2015

Having expanded its operation into the East End two years ago, following a merger with London Guildhall University, troubled London Metropolitan University (formerly University of North London) has revealed that it is now to sell off its Tower Hamlets premises and re-consolidate back on its existing Holloway Road campus in London Borough of Islington.

The university moved its highly-regarded school of Architecture and Spatial Design to join the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Media and Design in Central House, opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery in Tower Hamlets in 2013. The establishment on the site of a prestigious new Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design – described in glowing terms as an ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’ –  was accompanied by an internal re-modelling of the building by London Met’s own school-based Architecture Research Unit, headed by professors Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, with the potential to extend the building upwards by three floors.

However, the shock decision to vacate the school and raise £50m for the cash-strapped university by selling the building off for demolition and redevelopment as flats has  been challenged by the new Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs. As reported in the London Evening Standard last night (21/10/15: 10), he claims the move has been prompted purely to address the university’s own “financial mismanagement”, and will “diminish” the community of Tower Hamlets.  The paper further reports that more than 1,000 people have signed a petition against the plans to consolidate the campus in the borough of Islington, closing down all its university teaching centres in Whitechapel, Aldgate and Moorgate – with potentially deleterious effects on the East End borough.

As an ‘anchor institution’ for associated creative and cultural economic development in the borough, the Cass has represented a vital resource for local regeneration, forming part of a new cultural hub in close proximity to the Whitechapel Art Gallery and fast-transforming Brick Lane. So this latest news prompts an interesting question as to what happens when an anchor institution decides, for whatever reason, that it is time to move on and redistribute the benefits of its presence elsewhere.

As quoted in the Standard, John Biggs’ view is that ‘The ideally situated Cass faculty has roots in the East End and a reputation for combining academic study and creative production. To put this heritage at risk [in order] to address the LMU’s financial mismanagement is a tragedy.’

A tragedy for Tower Hamlets perhaps – but not presumably for Islington, where an expanded single campus for London Met on Holloway Road (albeit reducing student capacity by 2,000 to 10,000 in total) could well bring benefits to  a borough which is in fact one of the most deprived local authority areas in the country. 45% of children live in poverty, the second highest rate in the country, and almost all of those live in workless families. Holloway ward in particular is one of several in the borough where multiple deprivation is most concentrated, with male life expectancy at second lowest.

So perhaps it makes sense for London Met to bring the Cass back to north London, as a catalyst for local regeneration on the Holloway Road. At least, that is, until the developers are ready to move in to replace the university facilities with unaffordable flats there as well. In which case, where will the Cass go next? Peterborough (the largest UK city without a university)? Who knows,  it could even re-locate as far as South Korea. And that really would be a loss.

Kings College architects selected to US university design shortlist

By Clare Melhuish, on 16 October 2015

Belfast-based practice Hall McKnight, the firm behind the plans for a controversial new building for Kings College London on the Strand, has been shortlisted by Gallaudet University in Washington DC for a $160m redesign of its historic city centre campus. In May, planning permission for the Kings scheme was put on hold by DCLG  after Historic England decided it would result in ‘substantial harm’ to the historic Strand frontage targeted for demolition and replacement with a new building. Responding to the public outcry, Kings subsequently withdrew the proposals, which represented one element of the modernisation programme for its Strand campus.

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The Gallaudet project is intended to provide ‘a new gateway for the campus and redefine its boundary with the city as a vibrant creative district’ (BD online 15/10/15). The heart of the 40ha campus, close to the Capitol and the White House, was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted in a gothic style in 1866, and is designated for statutory protection on the National Register of Historic Places. The initiative is conceived as an integral part of a wider regeneration project in Washington DC, providing a focus for the city’s newly emerging creative and cultural industries, and will include a Visitors’ Pavilion in the new Gateway Plaza.

The competition was organised by UK competition organisers Malcolm Reading Consultants, behind the UK’s Olimpicopolis competition shortlist. Catherine Reading, a director, said: “What’s particularly enticing for European architects is the opportunity to design in the centre of Washington DC, for an extremely interesting client.’ (BD online 31/07/15)  The university is also of note as the world’s only leading liberal arts college for deaf and hearing-impaired students, and as a centre for deaf research, culture, experience, and design for deaf people through the DeafSpace design approach.

The key objectives represent current global trends in urban university development (see Gallaudet Vision), within the context of ‘Washington DC’s rapid metamorphosis into one of the most dynamic cities in North America’ (Fred Weiner, Gallaudet University):

  • Create a destination for creative cultural exchange and innovation as part of the 6th Street corridor and Florida Avenue Market revitalization.
  • Establish an exemplar of inclusive design and creative place-making within both local neighborhoods and the wider city of Washington, D.C.
  • Give the University a gateway which expresses a more open character, and better integrates the campus, with its wider neighborhood.
  • Shift the focus of the campus back to its much-valued historic heart and rejuvenate the public realm, making it fully inclusive and inviting, whilst also flexible and responsive to change.
  • Seek functional excellence by incorporating DeafSpace guidelines and inspiring new thinking about communications technology, way-finding, and branding.
  • Develop a space that can act as a conduit between the hearing and non-hearing worlds, celebrating human diversity – and with the potential to become a global model.
  • Increase awareness of Gallaudet University as an eminent institution of national and international importance

The winning firm will be selected from the five finalists in February 2016 by a jury which includes the British architect David Adjaye. Hall McKnight is the only British practice to feature on the otherwise all-American shortlist.

Universities as agents of inclusive urbanisation

By Clare Melhuish, on 7 October 2015

The Urban Lab + London Symposium on Global Urban Higher Education (hosted by UCL Urban Laboratory, Sept 16th-17th), provided a valuable forum for discussion not only of ‘the challenges and potentials of internationalisation’, but also around a redefinition of the idea of a university as itself an agent of equitable urbanisation.

Quite apart from the fundamental problems of linguistic difference and expectation of political neutrality in international fieldwork (which also set hard and fast parameters around particular research areas and bodies of scholarship), universities have to confront questions around their role in tackling global urban issues, notably urban inclusion. As Caren Levy (UCL) pointed out, social and spatial inequality in cities is an international phenomenon, often exacerbated by the growth of the development industry and the promotion of particular models of planning. Planning itself, as well as planning education, operates under a cloak of neutrality, but is usually instrumental to powerful interests.

However universities themselves figure among those powerful interests that planning serves, and they also form alliances with other parties that increasingly view university partnerships as beneficial to the promotion of their own objectives. While Jane Jacobs (Yale-NUS) proposed that the Yale-NUS campus initiative in Singapore is ‘not an export model of higher education’, but rather a ‘reputational investment’ intended to further Singapore’s own developing programme of education aimed at producing a ‘new kind of citizen subject’ to transform the country, many universities from the global north stand accused of pursuing institutional and physical international expansion plans which simply perpetuate the colonising traditions and inequalities of the past. As Jenny Robinson (UCL) noted, urban studies teaching is being transformed by the aspiration to ‘build knowledge from many different contexts’, and so too universities as institutions have a responsibility to commit to partnerships and develop an analytics of power and urban politics which addresses fundamental issues.

If then ‘cities are not all right’ (Krzysztof Nawratek, cited several times during the proceedings), universities should be demonstrating through their own institutional development and relationships with partners and planning systems how they can actively promote equitable and sustainable urbanisation. But to date, suggested Jean-Paul Addie (UCL), critical urbanism has not sufficiently shaped university-urban relationships. Furthermore, current definitions of ‘the urban’ do not adequately reflect the reality of most urban lives, grounded in suburban environments, and need to be expanded. Addie’s proposal for insititutions to be held to account more widely in terms of their (sub-)urban responsibilities was taken one step further by Alex Schafran (Leeds). He argued that universities framed as ‘urban academies’ should be made formally and legally responsible for public participation, debate and dissemination of information on urban issues, such as housing, to address the sheer incapacity of states to engage in long-term planning. Universities he said need to fill that gap, explicitly engaging with the political dimensions of urbanisation.

Teaching and research provide natural arenas in which to explore and forward such ideas in an international sphere, alongside public engagement strategies aimed at disseminating knowledge and building capacity more widely. But universities can also promote that knowledge through their estates strategies and spatial development plans, in order to demonstrate and disseminate models of responsible engagement with planning systems, and address the perpetuation of inequalities through the urban environment itself. Urban inclusion involves understanding specific issues and conditions which are similar across continents – for example, privatisation of public space and access to urban transport, housing, and social infrastructure. Fear of displacement resulting from place-marketing and speculation in land values is a common concern among populations in less affluent urban neighbourhoods which become the target of development, including university development. But universities have the power to make a difference, by embracing best practice informed by research, teaching and outreach, committing to principles of long-term social and environmental sustainability, and remembering that (in the words of architect Sir Peter Shepheard), ‘The plan of a university, like that of a city, should be a mechanism for enabling things to happen, for the enhancement of life’.

‘Global urban higher education: the challenges and potentials of internationalisation’, London Symposium 2015, took place on 16th and 17th September at UCL. Audio recordings of the full proceedings will shortly be available at https://soundcloud.com/uclurbanlab. For further information about the Urban Lab + International Network of Urban Laboratories, see http://www.urbanlabplus.eu.