Now is the time for Welsh universities to reconnect with the communities that surround them, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams will say today in a major speech (Thurs 8th Sept).
Recognising the similar task for politicians and government, she will call on universities to recapture their civic mission by doing more to reach out to people across Wales following the fallout from the vote for Brexit.
The Education Secretary will also highlight how there is now an opportunity to become more open to the world.
Speaking at Cardiff University, she will say:
“At a UK level, the pro-EU campaign of universities was too easily dismissed as one of self-interest, almost exclusively focused on income. This is not to exempt politicians and government from criticism. But it is certainly incumbent on universities to reflect on the distance between campus and community exposed by the referendum. The urgency of now is to recapture a civic mission.
“This is not to exempt politicians and government from criticism. Far from it. As Anthony Barnett has put it, we have an obligation, across our four nations, to regroup as a ‘meaningful democracy, socially inclusive, internationally responsible, economically fair and institutionally inventive’.
“The victories that help bend the arc of history towards progress – feminism, opening up access to education, civility in our discourse and towards others, civil rights, even devolution – may be far more fragile than we imagined.
“The vote showed that when people and communities think advancements are for the benefit of others – rather than for them, their families or society at large – they will think they have nothing to lose by standing against these.
“Are we confident that the communities that host our universities do not see those institutions as belonging to other people? How are Welsh universities owned, rooted and responsible to their region and nation? How will they help address issues of social cohesion, active citizenship and informed debate in the months and years to come?
“The task now is a Welsh higher education system that is accessible and relevant to its home communities within a democratic, devolved nation. And to combine it with an openness to students, scholars, opportunities and intellectual developments in Europe and across the World.
“The referendum showed that our notions of togetherness and bonds between communities are perhaps weaker than we imagined. Welsh Universities, as civic and international institutions, have a responsibility as stewards of community, city and country.
“I ask you to re-capture and re-invent that civic mission, realised and relevant for our contemporary challenges. I am confident in your imagination and innovation to meet that test, and seize the opportunities and responsibilities ahead.”
The Education Secretary also revealed she has established a new Welsh HE Brexit Working Group, with sector-wide membership, to co-ordinate intelligence and provide advice on both the impact and possibilities of UK withdrawal from the EU.