Thinking big. Megacities and education in 21st Century urbanism

Last week I spoke at the British Council’s ‘Megacities: education in 21st century urbanism’ roundtable event.

In the last forty years the world has seen cities grow in size and autonomy with only three megacities in 1976 soaring to more than thirty in 2016. Megacities account for 13% of the world’s urban inhabitants and 7% of the world’s total population.

Living, working and leading these cities presents opportunities but also challenges. Higher education is suffering from a failure of the imagination when it comes to really big cities. We understand them academically, but we don’t understand them as well as we should from our perspective as individual institutions, as landlords, as export businesses and as corporate citizens. This diminishes our impact. It risks making universities ordinary in places where we should be extraordinary. We need to think on a more ambitious scale.

We need to reap the benefits of the intellectual, social and industrial capital we create in our students. Universities help form the character, population and fortune wherever they are and especially in great cities. They are instruments of social cohesion and social mobility. They create knowledge which shapes industries and political thinking.

These effects in part arise naturally from graduate activity, which we cannot consciously direct. But universities can and should create the conditions for success. We can and should set out to entwine ourselves in our cities. We can and should work with local government to ensure that our students remain in the area after graduation.

You can listen to all of the speeches in full, including mine, on the British Council website.

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