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Universities should be integral to the success of the cities they call home

Deborah Bull, of KCL, says that universities should be integral to the success of the cities they call home.
This article is more than 5 years old

Deborah Bull is Vice President & Vice-Principal (London) at King’s College London.

Last year, London was ranked the best university city in the world, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The concentration of expertise and opportunity, as well as the global networks that make up this great capital, create a remarkable environment for learning and research. London is both a living classroom and a laboratory for new ideas. It’s the rich mix of rounded, engaged graduates and innovative research that will help secure the capital’s health, wealth and continued success.

King’s, of London

It’s not surprising, then, that London is central to King’s strategic vision for the years leading up to the university’s 200th anniversary, in 2029. The future of King’s is interwoven with the future of London – as a place to live, work, learn and experience. King’s aspires to be of and not just in this capital city: we know that London is integral to King’s and King’s should be integral to London’s success.

Across all our nine faculties, we have some of the leading thinkers on issues affecting the city – from air quality to ageing, public health to wireless communications. A recent audit surfaced over 270 academics who are pursuing research and teaching on London as a scholarly subject. The study of this diverse and distinctive city and its key challenges underpins our commitment to ensuring King’s expertise has a tangible and transformative impact on London and its communities.

What does this mean in practice? Successful strategies for lasting change require a blend of collaboration and leadership. And so King’s responds to London’s challenges by listening to London and Londoners, bringing academic insights and expertise to bear on the city’s challenges and then co-creating, with London, solutions that might help to address them.

This was the central topic of a recent event that showcased the breadth and depth of the university’s expertise in London’s policy challenges – and highlighted the potential for greater collaboration between academics and policy-makers in ensuring London’s success.

Research in the city

Professor Frank Kelly, whose work addresses the impact of atmospheric pollution on human health, discussed the role King’s plays in monitoring the capital’s air quality. Air quality updates, provided on an hourly basis are unique as no other university provides such a service.  ‘If we improve air quality in London we will see significant health benefits and we as a university will have played a major role,’ he said. ‘London is our living laboratory. We take people with asthma along Oxford Street to determine the real world effect of pollution. Data arising from such research makes it very easy to convince politicians that changes are required to improve air quality.’

‘5G drives GDP’, said Professor Mischa Dohler, a pioneer in 5G technology and smart cities. He underlined the impact connectivity can have on our wellbeing saying, ‘studies confirm that the better the connectivity, the greater the happiness of a city.’As the discussion moved to subjects of health and ageing, Professor Charles Wolfe said that ‘health is a barometer of the strength of London.’ He called for the capital’s leading universities to work even more closely together to develop new drug therapies, but stressed that this ‘won’t happen without the real engagement of the citizens that we are serving.’

The final speaker of the evening, Professor Anthea Tinker, an expert in ageing and its impact on society, said that universities have an obligation to give something back to the cities in which we live and study. She underlined the importance of talking to and working with communities to ensure London and other urban areas become more age-friendly, as well as the value of bringing students into the research process.

Urban commission

King’s commitment to London, highlighted in Vision 2029, is nothing new for the university: it’s embedded deep within our DNA. Over many years, we’ve been working in partnership with London and we’re proud that our research is already helping to shape the future of the city:

  • The King’s Commission on London, which launches at City Hall in March 2018, has convened representatives from London business, government, leading academics and think-tanks to provide substantive, evidence-based recommendations on how London can be more liveable, sustainable and productive, as well as healthier, more inclusive and better connected.
  • The new Centre for Urban Science and Progress established at King’s will bring together researchers, businesses, local authorities and government agencies to apply urban science to improving public health and wellbeing, drawing on the lived experience and the big data available in cities.
  • King’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy and the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine will be a partner in a major new Wellcome funded £10m initiative to establish a world-leading research centre. The London Hub for Urban Health, Sustainability & Equality will see two projects (one coordinated by University College London and one by Imperial College London) examine how urban development can ensure equitable healthy lives, while also protecting the planet – drawing on lessons from London, but also Dhaka, Vancouver, Beijing, Accra and Tamale.

In everything we do, we know that diverse voices create stronger ideas and that working in partnership is the most effective way to address London’s challenges. And so we are proud of our collaborations with London’s research-intensive universities – Imperial College London, London School of Economics, Queen Mary and University College London. Universities have a collective responsibility to play a full and active role in London and the cities in which we create our home: driving world-class research and innovation, attracting and developing talent and ensuring our local communities are safe, healthy and vibrant places to live.

By working together, in partnerships that extend across university walls, we can make London, and the world, a better place.

One response to “Universities should be integral to the success of the cities they call home

  1. Under the current fees structure, doesn’t this obligation translate into an obligation on current students to subsidise this through their fees, inflated accommodation costs etc? I mean I agree but surely the obligation is on the govt of the day to fund this in a transparent way so we can be clear that current students are not taking out a mortgage to fund social goods that should be paid for out of general taxation?

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