Addressing the Climate Emergency in Birmingham: Using the Civic Index to Build University-Civic Collaborations

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Hannes Read discusses how Universities and regional authorities can use the Civic Index to improve collaboration between these partners and help drive regional economic development.
The Civic Index: A Tool Linking Economy, Environment, Institutions, and Place

Collaboration between higher education and local/regional authorities is proven to be an important part of local and regional economic development. Local and regional authorities and universities need to collaborate strategically. The opportunity for pointed, purposeful, and impactful collaborations is clear. The Civic Index developed by WMREDI enables local and regional authorities and universities to identify and plan how they can collaborate for the greatest impact in the local area.

The Civic Index is a tool available to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses that higher education institutions make to their local area. Under the bonnet, the metrics are split into social, institutional, environmental and physical, and economic categories. One aim of the Civic Index is for universities and local and regional authorities to collaborate to improve the economic, environmental, institutional, and social impacts of their respective areas.

The diamond chart in the Civic Index shows the variation of higher education institutions' impact in their respective local areas. Some places score highly, and others low, in the economic, environmental, institutional and social themes.

The themes identify not only the opportunities to improve but also the signs of what works well, for universities and local and regional authorities collaborating in place. But the trick is that the Civic Index should be the starting point for identifying the most impactful ways in which local and regional authorities can collaborate with higher education institutions to make a difference in place.

Collaborating with Anchor Institutions Improve Local Authorities’ and Universities’ Impact in Place

Using the Civic Index can harness the powers of higher education institutions in place. The importance of collaboration, innovation, and strategy in local economic development is widely known. But with so many options, it is difficult to know where to start. The signings of Civic University Agreements provide an ambition where universities work jointly with local and regional authorities and other stakeholders to develop and enhance their civic role. The Civic Index provides an ideal starting point for creating a strategy to deliver that vision.

Local and regional authorities should use the Civic Index to take the lead in identifying their civic-university strategy. Each place is unique with different strengths, and the Civic Index identifies the relative strengths and weaknesses of the university-civic linkages in each place. Each of the 38 different metrics is updated with the most recent available data and can be used by local authorities and universities to:

  • Identify the opportunities and strengths of civic-university collaboration
  • Provide a starting point for strategy development through building on existing strengths or improving on weaknesses
  • Offer a tool to benchmark, track, and evaluate the successes of civic strategies
Addressing the Climate Emergency in Birmingham Using the Civic Index and Civic-University Collaboration

Here we put the Civic Index into practice to identify how the five higher education institutions in Birmingham – Aston University, Birmingham City University, Newman University, University College Birmingham, and the University of Birmingham – can collaborate with Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority to address the climate emergency.

Universities in Birmingham provide a large impact on the Environmental and Physical categories. It is simple to get to this view by:

  • From the home page click the ‘Total/Category Scores’ tab at the top.
  • Change the ‘Toggle Geography/HE Providers’ section from ‘HE Provider’ to ‘Place (LA)’. This enables the viewer to look at the average score of each university in a local authority area.
  • Use the ‘Filter’ drop-down menu to select the local authority area you are looking at. In this case, we have chosen Birmingham. Birmingham scores at 0.271 on a scale from 0 to 1, which shows a relatively high level of civic-university impact compared to other local authorities.

We are looking at building on the strengths of HEIs in Birmingham to increase the impact further. In this example, we are looking for the relative strengths that can be built on which are the Environmental and Physical metrics. You can see these by toggling the ‘Geography/HE Provider’ dropdown menu to show Birmingham brings up all 38 metrics that went into the index under the ‘Metric Scores’ tab.

The Environmental Auditing and Management Systems (0.888) and Carbon Reduction (0.606) metrics are both relatively high. However, there is scope for the impact of Carbon Reduction by HEIs in Birmingham to be even greater. Birmingham City University scores 1.00 (the highest possible rank) whereas the University of Birmingham shows zero data. In addition, there is no data for University College Birmingham either. This is likely because neither institutions present the relevant data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

The Carbon Reduction metrics rank Birmingham City University as highest with a score of 1.00 with the University of Birmingham the lowest with no data. Newman University (0.70) and Aston University (0.47) are also shown.

This presents an opportunity for Birmingham City Council and WMCA to lead the collaborative approach to action in reducing carbon emissions. Birmingham City University is a leader in the field that can support other universities in the city to improve their carbon reductions. The local authorities have a mandate to collaborate with the HEIs to address the climate emergency through the Route to Zero taskforce.

Using the Civic Index provides a clear way of measuring, tracking, and evaluating, the impacts of civic-university collaborations in a range of fields. And, as strong as HEIs Birmingham are in reducing carbon emissions, there is even greater scope for the city to build on Birmingham City University’s strengths and become genuine leaders in the field.

Visit the WMREDI Data Lab.

This blog was written by Hannes Read, Project Policy and Data Analyst, City-REDI / WMREDI, University of Birmingham. 

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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