Institute for Social Renewal

Civic University

Civic University

Understanding the roles that Universities can play is more rich and complex than you might imagine. In these pages you will find out more about the research that are our academics are undertaking to capture the impact that Universities can have in their city areas.

Higher education is engaged in society in a range of ways, although there has often been a lack of joined up frameworks in which to maintain and develop these relationships and interactions.

The research provocation developed by Prof John Goddard in 2009 argued that it was time to re-invent the notion of the broadly based civic university.

This Provocation promoted the idea that all publicly funded universities in the UK have a powerful civic role to play by engaging with wider society on the local, national and global scales, and that in doing so they could generate productive links between social and economic spheres.

Research is now being undertaken on how Higher Education Institutions are rising to the challenge of being a civic university. Prof John Goddard, Louise Kempton and Ellen Hazelkorn from Dublin Institute of Technology are working with eight universities from the UK and Europe to understand the benefits and the practical working methods involved in truly functioning as an engaged civic university, when policy frameworks and funding regimes can encourage silo working.

City Futures

The concentration of expertise at Newcastle University in urban and regional change, planning, public participation and social science analysis, is being put to use to shape the future prosperity of Newcastle.

Urban areas can be exciting and dynamic, but they also possess deeper societal challenges; for example, the need for effective public services, the impact of business closures, changes in the housing market, the implications of an ageing population.

The democracy of cities where new services, agencies and communities can emerge (or be submerged) is their strength and their potential weakness. Finding a way to help the many aspects of cities thrive and allow citizens a voice in the change, is crucial to Social Renewal and to the approach of a civic university.

The Newcastle City Futures exhibition and events programme in 2014, run by the School of Architecture Planning and Landscape explored examples of development from Newcastle’s recent past and served as a prompt to dialogue on what Newcastle could and should be like in the next 50 years. 

Newcastle City Futures Study

Running alongside the Newcastle City Futures exhibition and events series, the Newcastle City Futures study was commissioned by the Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport and was led by John Goddard, Mark Tewdwr-Jones and Paul Cowie from Newcastle University. It focused upon researching the medium- and long-term trends facing the Greater Newcastle city region, and has developed scenario planning. Newcastle University played a pivotal role in bringing stakeholders together, facilitating the exchange of data and of expertise. These two approaches pioneered a new method to think about the future of cities and has led to enhanced collaborative working between Newcastle University, Newcastle City Council and a range of other organisations across Tyneside and in government.

Building on from this work, Professors John Goddard and Mark Tewdwr-Jones have prepared a short report outlining the potential for Civic universities to work with their city regions.

The Civic University and City Futures

The City Futures and the Civic Universitydescribes and promotes moves towards a new and deeper relationship between universities and the cities of which they form part, as “anchor institutions” that are not only ‘in’ the city but also ‘of’ the city. These developments can be attributed in part to the challenges facing both cities and universities. Cities are increasingly being expected to take on more responsibility for the local economy, for the health and education of their citizens, and for the physical and human environment in an era of climate change.

A new and more integrated relationship is now emerging which requires universities to re-appraise their role as civic institutions. This way of working can present significant challenges to cities and universities. But when it works well, it can bring massive benefit to cities facing deep social and economic challenges and dwindling budgets, and to universities challenged to demonstrate their contribution to the public good.

Newcastle University have pioneered the approach of universities working to achieve synergies with local government, business and the voluntary and community sector.

Exploring social innovation

The CURDS research team, in collaboration with Social Renewal, held a ‘Thematic Seminar’ on Social Innovation for an Age Friendly Society in Newcastle University.

Social innovation can be defined as “a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals" (Source: Stanford Graduate School of Business).

The concept of an innovation which offers benefits much to society much wider than a simple economic benefit is very relevant to higher education.

Civic universities are potential sites of social innovation.

The event

The Newcastle University CURDS (Centre for Urban and Rural Development Studies) team leads a strand of work exploring the relationship between smart specialisation and social innovation, focusing particularly on the societal challenge of ageing.

The event was organised as part of the EU FP7-funded SmartSpec project which is concerned with Smart Specialisation and Regional Innovation.

The seminar brought together a mix of academics, policymakers and practitioners concerned with the question of how society innovates so as to address the challenges and regional economic development opportunities presented by an ageing population, particularly in the North East of England.


The afternoon was dedicated to dialogue and knowledge exchange, and a lively facilitated-discussion built on, elaborated and challenged the findings presented in the morning. All the presentations can be accessed below. 

Seminar Agenda

Main Points 

Introduction to the day - John Goddard

Social Innovation and Smart Specialisation Strategies - Pedro Marques

Social Innovation and Societal Challenges - Lars Coenen

Constructing a Quadruple Helix for the Silver Economy - Ranald Richardson


The Foresight Future of Cities Research Network, funded by the Government Office for Science, was established in January 2015. Read its final report.

This network has been able to engage four cities where the link between a university and city in the Foresight process is taking shape. These are Newcastle University in Newcastle, University of Liverpool in Liverpool, Cardiff University in Cardiff and University of Manchester in Manchester. In addition, UCL has been linked to the Foresight Future of Cities Research Network to build on international work on city leadership that is relevant to UCL’s mission to be ‘London’s Global University’.

This report outlines what the network has achieved so far.