Edinburgh University and its home city are good for each other – Professor Charlie Jeffery
The bond between the University of Edinburgh and the city of which it is a product is as vital as it has ever been, says Professor Charlie Jeffery
The University of Edinburgh is a product of this city. Without Edinburgh, there would be no university.
It was the first university in the UK to be established by a town council, known, when it opened its doors in 1583 as “the Town’s College”.
More than four centuries later, both the city of Edinburgh and the university have grown and prospered. Through all the changes that have made Edinburgh a world-class location in which to live, work and study, the bond between the city and the university remains as vital as ever.
What, then, does the relationship between town and city mean today?
I believe it means having an open dialogue with the community of which we are a part and – crucially – a willingness to listen. It means making sure what the university does – through its research and its students – brings benefit to people in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. And it means our students and staff being fully engaged with the city and enhancing the life of Edinburgh.
In recent years we have sought to live up to these principles in many ways.
We are proud to be a major provider of the nurses, teachers and doctors who provide vital services for people in the city and across Scotland.
We have worked with the City of Edinburgh Council and others to bring together the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal with its focus on new data technologies. At the heart of that is our commitment to help equip people with the data skills they will need to thrive in the economy of the future.
This is not just about those who go to university; we are also working with schools, colleges and businesses to ensure young people, women returning to work after a family break, and people in employment needing to upgrade their skills have the opportunity to do so.
We have also pledged to support community groups to make a positive difference through our community grants scheme, working with not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises in Edinburgh, Fife, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders.
Recipients include a student-run clinic offering free veterinary care for pets of homeless people, a sustainable beekeeping project helping vulnerable young people connect with nature, and a charity supporting women suffering from domestic abuse, poverty and poor mental health.
Our students too are working in partnership with local community organisations and schools.
We know that while many students will only be in Edinburgh for a few years, they have the opportunity to leave behind a city improved by their presence.
They can be found offering advice on digital literacy for older people at a day centre, running a free legal advice service, and working in local classrooms to inspire young people from city schools to study science at university.
We also know that our impact can bring change that not everyone is always comfortable with. We need to recognise that and work with our communities to ensure we have shared priorities.
We are always willing to learn lessons and improve our approach – and in that way ensure we remain a vital strand of Edinburgh’s civic fabric for centuries to come.
Professor Charlie Jeffery is Senior Vice-Principal of the University of Edinburgh