Our universities in the community

Russell Group universities place a great deal of value on forging strong connections with their local communities. They are committed to playing a full and active part in the social, cultural and civic life of their town or city as well as the wider region.

Public engagement has never been taken more seriously by our leading research-intensive institutions. For them, it is a core mission not an optional add-on. They understand that developing close ties with their neighbours living and working outside the campus gates mutually benefits university and community alike.

Nowadays, of course, our 24 members operate on a global stage and recruit students, teaching staff and research partners from many different countries. Their world-leading experts, facilities and collaborative partnerships encourage and draw in investment from business and others around the world. Indeed, these global links help to strengthen and support local prosperity by enabling our universities to attract both inward investment and the best international talent to their local area.

But while their outlook and reach is international, Russell Group universities are proudly rooted in their locality and have an acute sense of place.

Many Russell Group universities are located right at the beating heart of their communities. They have all developed close and lasting links with local businesses, schools, public sector partners and charitable organisations.

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Our members are often the economic lifeblood of their home city, directly employing thousands of people and supporting many, many more jobs across a wide range of sectors. In 2015/16, more than 20,000 start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) benefitted from Russell Group university consultancy support and expertise, helping them realise significant productivity gains and develop new products and services.

But the involvement of Russell Group universities in their own communities goes far beyond regeneration, business growth and wealth-creation, vital though these are.

There are many examples of our members collaborating with their local communities on important research projects. Such partnerships underpin the research excellence which is the hallmark of Russell Group universities and help them meet the global health, economic and environmental challenges that affect all our lives.

For example, Queen Mary University London has teamed up with King’s College and the University of Cambridge to conduct one of the world’s largest community-based genetics studies. By analysing the genes and health of 100,000 local people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, its aim is to identify better treatments to cure or prevent conditions like heart disease, strokes and diabetes among that section of the population.

Our members have also developed active links and outreach programmes with around 8,000 local schools to encourage successful applications to students from all backgrounds. We believe passionately in the transformative power of higher education; a commitment to improving social mobility is deeply rooted in all our universities.

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Perhaps less heralded but just as important is the work our universities do to help bring people together, promoting cohesion and strengthening the social fabric of local communities. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in student volunteering. It is estimated that every year, Russell Group university students undertake almost 1 million hours of volunteering in their local area. They work with nearly 5,000 charities, community groups and not-for-profit organisations.

This activity not only benefits communities but also enhances the students’ own experience, helping them to develop into well-rounded, outward-looking citizens as well as skilled employees ready to join the UK workforce after they graduate.

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Durham University’s Student Community Action programme, for example, enables undergraduates to get involved in everything from running residential trips for underprivileged children and computer classes for the elderly through to dog walking for local residents. The University of Exeter, meanwhile, has a StreetWise fund that reinvests fines imposed on students for minor misdemeanours into grants of up to £500 for projects linking students with local residents and community organisations.

Russell Group universities also make a major contribution to the cultural, artistic, sporting and educational life of their home cities. All our members open the doors of their museums, galleries, theatres and state-of-the-art sports facilities to local residents and organisations. More than five and a half million people attend exhibitions at museums and galleries located within our universities every year.

In Leeds, members of the public can take their pick from the university’s Stanley and Audrey Burton art gallery, the International Textiles archive and the Marks and Spencer Company archive.

Throughout the year, our members host and run a diverse range of community-focused events, including science, history, literature and music festivals.

The York Festival of Ideas, launched by the city’s university in 2011, is now the largest free festival in the UK. In West London, Imperial College has run interactive science pop-up stands at the W12 Festival and on Queen’s Park Rangers match days, enabling hundreds of participants to engage with science in a fun and hands-on way.

Last year almost one and half million members of the public took advantage of the free lectures run by Russell Group universities. A number of our universities, including Liverpool, also have well established lifelong learning centres offering hundreds of different courses to local residents both on and off campus.

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