Nancy Rothwell & James Thompson / Social responsibility at our core

Words by Nancy Rothwell and James Thompson

In this issue of the magazine we will place the spotlight on our University’s commitment to social responsibility. This commitment – one of our three core goals – is particularly pertinent as we look afresh at what it means to be a civic university, now and in the future.

If we look back almost 200 years to the founding institutions of The University of Manchester, the roots of our commitments to social responsibility, openness and inclusivity can be seen. Nearly 20 years ago, when the University in its current form was created by the integration of UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester, our objective of bringing benefit to society was enshrined in our Royal Charter.

As we approach these significant anniversaries, people across and beyond our University have been sharing their thoughts and ideas for our next vision and strategic plan. One thing that is coming through loud and clear in our many conversations with staff, students, alumni and stakeholders is pride in our three core goals of world-class research, outstanding learning and student experience, and social responsibility.

One comment from an academic member of staff particularly stuck with us: “In my research I feel an allegiance to my discipline, in my teaching it is to my students and in social responsibility it is to the University.”

Social responsibility is frequently mentioned alongside our civic and international roles. We were the first UK university to place social responsibility at the heart of its strategic goals back in 2009. Social responsibility will therefore remain as one of our core goals.

Universities are increasingly being challenged to demonstrate their contribution to society, alongside their major economic contribution. We are being asked by prospective students, their families, government and society about the value of a degree. The latter is framed all too often in solely financial terms, ignoring how much more students gain from attending university and how much they in turn give to society as a result of their education and experience.

The recently published report from the Civic University Commission, led by Lord Kerslake, documents the numerous contributions universities make to their regions and includes examples from our University.

For us, social responsibility goes beyond our city region, for example through our research on global inequalities, climate change, natural resources and world health problems, and our programmes for disadvantaged international students, such as our Equity and Merit scholarships, which support students from some of the poorest countries in the world to tackle global challenges.

As with everything we do, our people are at the heart of our successes. We celebrate some of the amazing ways in which our staff, students and alumni contribute to society and recognise the impact our people make through socially responsible activities and achievements at our annual Making a Difference Awards – a truly inspirational event in the University calendar. 

While we can take pride in the difference we make today, we must also think of our future. We need to consider what social responsibility activities we will focus on, noting the limited resources and time of our staff and students. We will ask how these will be embedded into research, innovation, teaching and learning; how we will balance local, national and global activities; and how we can best assess the value of what we do.

As we approach our third century, we will seek to make an even greater difference to society.

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