By Professor Wendy Thomson CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of London and Co-Chair of the London Anchor Institutions Network
The London Anchor Institutions Network was established during the pandemic to help achieve a better future. The network recognises the key role that anchor institutions have in making real social and economic impact through the money we spend, the people we serve, and the staff we employ. It’s a critical relationship between our institutions and London – to fulfil our mission whether it be doing business, education and learning, health and well-being, environment – we need to foster the right conditions for success. This week it was a pleasure to welcome the Anchor Institutions Network to Senate House at the University of London; an iconic landmark built more than 80 years ago as an anchor institution for world class education in London. The building was completed in the shadow of World War Two, at a time of severe disruption and challenge to the lives of those living in the city.
The London we find ourselves in today is facing unprecedented challenges that demand leadership from London’s major anchor institutions as we manage recovery from the immense social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Brexit. The most recent report on the state of London shows some signs of recovery seen through spending patterns, a return of young people to London (as students return to university), and an increase in the birth rate after several years of decline. But challenges remain – footfall in some high streets is still less than pre-Covid and consumer confidence is low. Unemployment remains high, alongside a problem filling posts in many sectors. Public transport demand has increased but is still not back to pre-Covid levels. The impact of hybrid working patterns is evident when travelling on the tube on a Monday and Friday.
The effects of inflation and energy costs are also having an impact. The Latest ONS report suggests that business closures exceed business births. The future of financial services is still uncertain as the regulatory implications of Brexit are yet to fully unfold. The World Economic Outlook report from the IMF forecasts Britain as the only leading economy likely to slide into recession, predicting declining household spending under the weight of high energy prices, rising mortgage costs and increased taxes. And of course, the effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent, demanding urgent and innovative solutions to improve air quality, and achieve zero carbon emissions. Anchor institutions play a major role in tackling these issues.
We are at a crucial point in our history where we can make real, impactful change. Working together and making the right decisions now can help us to make London a greener, cleaner, healthier and safer city for everyone. It won’t be done by government or elected politicians alone. Whilst it may sound impossibly grand, the aim of the London Anchor Institutions Network is really very simple – to make a prosperous and fairer London for everyone. A city that is more inclusive and environmentally sustainable, where economic opportunities are more equally available and take less of a toll on our planet. In practice, that means all of us working together so that we can make a bigger and more positive change.
The University of London is a proud member of the network. We are dedicated to our shared commitment of setting right the deep structural inequalities that were exposed in our city during the pandemic. We are a federation of 17 world class member institutions, employing more than 50,000 people in London itself, with more than 190,000 studying in the capital. We are the UK’s largest provider of distance education, supporting 45,000 students in 190 countries. The University is an anchor institution for London, facilitating collaboration across the federation of member institutions and London’s cultural, political and economic organisations. Last autumn we launched the University of London Scholars programme, which provides support to more than 30 new students each academic year, with a further 30-35 scholarships awarded over each of the next two years. The University is spending more than £2m to support the programme over the next three years, which will see 100 students from London being supported across the federal member institutions of the University.
Across the London Anchor Institutions Network, organisations are delivering on commitments to build that better future that we all want to see. And there is a great deal on which to build moving forward.
Find out more about the network and what we do on our website.
This blog has been adapted from a speech by Professor Wendy Thomson CBE at the London Anchor Institutions Network Annual Conference on 31 January 2023.