By Manu Moritz
The international competition for talent is at an all-time high. In this article, we explore how global forces and an outward focus by both cities and universities may in fact lead to building stronger local communities.
Globalisation. Neoliberalism. These are buzz words that have been thrown around for years now to describe the new economic, political and social world order. Defined by a greater and faster global flow of goods, services, and people, cities are now more than ever in an aggressive rat race to attract global resources and remain relevant. Perhaps the most valuable of these ‘resources’ is talent. Given the growing international competition among city-regions and universities, the need for greater city-university cooperation to build and maintain a competitive edge is at an all-time high. This is even more relevant due to the recent, rapid internationalization of student populations, with students seeking out universities and city environments that best meet their academic, career, and lifestyle goals. As such, questions are raised regarding how the relationship between cities and their universities can be leveraged to optimise attracting and retaining this globally ‘footloose’ talent.
It is well-known that universities act as tremendous growth-poles for the city-regions they are in. Likewise, economically and culturally attractive cities help draw students from afar to local universities. This is a natural synergy, but it is also one that can be cultivated to bring in the additional talent that cities and universities actively seek.
However, the successful collaborations between a city and its universities are much more than the direct economic benefits between the two (i.e. spin-offs, knowledge transfer, etc.). Rather, universities represent a local, yet fiercely independent, academic community within their city-region. Their ability to provide unique and valuable amenities to the city around them, but also their need for city life and services, puts universities in a crucial position within the urban realm. As such, universities should be recognised and treated as the local institutions that they are; they should be treated as a part of the community, a member which can help drive forms of socially (and environmentally) beneficial urban growth. In return, the city becomes a much more welcoming and integrated part of the life of the university, directly benefitting not just the students and staff studying and working there, but also becoming a more attractive place for new talent.
A positive ‘town-gown’ relationship is something cities and universities should strive for anyway, yet it may be that it is external, global forces that influence it in the places it does not exist. Thus, while globalisation may have led to a dis-embedding of cities and universities from their local preconditions, it may also inevitably be what motivates bringing these two together more than ever before.