The public generally feels positively towards universities but many people fail to appreciate they do much more than teach undergraduates, according to recent research by BritainThinks for Universities UK.
The survey of 2,063 UK adults shows that just 9% of the public feel negatively towards universities, with 48% saying they feel positive. Over half (58%) believe that universities have a positive impact on the UK as a whole and 70% of people agree that UK universities are among the best in the world. Just 11% disagree.
However, the research also shows that most people rarely think about universities, largely finding the sector irrelevant to their daily lives. Crucially, a lack of understanding of universities’ impact creates a risk that even those most positively inclined lack the ammunition to advocate for the sector.
Giving people info
The truth is that people are far more likely to stand up and show their support for the NHS because they don’t fully appreciate the benefits universities bring to their lives. In troubled times, this kind of advocacy could help to win the hearts and minds of decision makers.
Many people don’t know that universities are at the forefront of some of the nation’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives. They don’t realise universities are behind the development of penicillin, the portable defibrillator, mobile phone technologies, ultrasound scans, and the establishment of the living wage.
But the BritainThinks research reveals that the public has a thirst to learn more about how universities are solving some of today’s global challenges. In fact, this is seen as the biggest benefit of universities.
Sharing one message
That’s why universities across the UK are joining forces to launch a major campaign – MadeAtUni – to bring to life the impact universities up and down the country have on communities at home and abroad. For people in universities, there’s a genuine desire to get behind a positive campaign, to celebrate achievements with shared messaging.
The first stage of the campaign will focus on inventions, discoveries and social initiatives. Over 130 universities submitted a nomination covering health, technology, environment, family, community, culture, and sport.
These are published as The UK’s Best Breakthroughs List: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life – and can be viewed on the campaign website: madeatuni.org.uk.
It’s important that this campaign isn’t just about universities saying how great they are. Many partner organisations are keen to promote the vital importance of the sector. We’re delighted that organisations, such as The NHS Confederation, Arts Council England, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and Shelter have pledged to support the campaign.
Several well-known people will help us reach new audiences. Award-winning actor and Chancellor of Ulster University James Nesbitt, and double-Olympic-gold medallist Rebecca Adlington feature in films to bring to life the ways that UK universities improve lives whether you’ve been to university or not.
At a time of economic and political uncertainty for us all, universities are offering solutions to global challenges. It is everybody’s shared task to ensure that this work is understood by the widest possible audience.