CTER and Civic: Our Shared Mission

In August 2024, Wales’s Higher Education Funding Council, HEFCW, will transition to a new public body, the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research. Since 2023, the Learned Society of Wales (LSW) has been working in close partnership with HEFCW to deliver our five-year strategy, with core priorities:

  1. Contribute to major policy solutions by providing independent advice and facilitating knowledge exchange.
  2. Create an environment that supports Wales’s current and future experts.
  3. Develop a more diverse and active fellowship.
  4. Develop our organisation.

In February 2024, the Welsh Government released a statement of strategic priorities for tertiary education and research and innovation in preparation for the launch of the Commission. LSW was pleased to note a continuation of alignment between our aims and those of the Commission, as has been the case with HEFCW.

In particular, the decision for the commission to prioritise:

ensuring that the tertiary education system contributes to the economy and society,

aligns directly with LSW’s mission:

advancing education, learning, academic study, and knowledge will contribute to scientific, cultural, social, environmental and economic development within Wales and beyond.

Alongside core values in research that are fundamental to the work of a national society – excellence, collaboration, and international reputation – the statement rightly emphasises the growing centrality of civic mission for the research sector. Wales is a clear leader in civic mission: while many UK universities have a civic mission strategy and use the terminology, seven of the top ten results for “civic mission” across multiple search engines are from Welsh organisations. This was highlighted in our recent review of Wales’s REF 2021 impact case studies, which found that 70% of impact case studies documented impact within Wales, and “Wales” was the top result from topic modelling across all 280 impact case studies submitted by Welsh HEIs. Researchers across all disciplines in Wales are focusing on creating benefits for their local communities.

In 2022, then Economy Minister Vaughan Gething asked LSW to hold a series of expert roundtables on feed into the Welsh Government’s Innovation Strategy.

Fittingly, civic mission is also a growing area of work for LSW. In 2022, then Economy Minister Vaughan Gething asked LSW to hold a series of expert roundtables on feed into the Welsh Government’s Innovation Strategy. We are continuing the conversation with a second series of roundtables focused on Inclusive Innovation, designed to advise how the implementation of the strategy might support Wales’s ambitions for an inclusive society in practice. Our March roundtable saw innovation experts from Welsh and international HEIs, industry, and the public sector discuss and refine ideas about civic mission in innovation. They identified five key components to meaningful civic mission work:

  • Regional Collaboration: Foster collaboration and coordination between universities, further education providers, businesses, the third sector, the public sector, and communities within the region. Develop and continually invest in inclusive local networks that transcend traditional boundaries to enhance the impact of civic engagement initiatives.
  • Place-Based Approaches: Learning from other localities must be adapted and applied carefully. To establish their contribution as anchoring institutions, research and innovation organisations must develop a tailored civic mission based on a deep understanding of their area, its communities and its uniqueness.
  • Investment in Institutional Capability: Focus on strengthening institutional capability and absorptive capacity to engage with communities effectively, as collaboration is labour-intensive. Within higher education institutions and their collaborators, commitment and expertise in excellent civic engagement should be mainstreamed across budgets, policies and departments rather than relying on individuals or specific projects.
  • The Power of Civic Engagement: Ambitious approaches to civic engagement have been rewarded with significant benefits for researchers and institutions while contributing to positive societal outcomes. Meaningful civic engagement can lead to knowledge creation and cutting-edge, inclusive innovation.
  • Celebrating Achievements: It is essential to celebrate the progress made in civic engagement efforts both locally and nationally and to share success through research and written work. Recognising successful initiatives can inspire and inform others, fostering a culture of community involvement.

For further details, please read our briefing from the roundtable: Civic Engagement for Inclusive Innovation in Wales – The Learned Society of Wales.

A core message from the roundtable was the need for institutions to mainstream civic mission through their work rather than siloing it as a separate stream of activity. Bringing this theory into action, LSW brings civic mission into the full breadth of our work, most importantly through our fellowship itself. Fellows of the Learned Society work in a wide number of sectors, including the NHS, business, community organisations, and the public sector. Representing the full breadth of Wales, and spread around the world, they share a common purpose in giving back to Wales. This shared desire forms the heart of our civic mission.

Our researcher development programme has been supporting the next generation of researchers in Wales to carry forward the civic mission agenda. Experts from our fellowship have been advising and training Early-Career Researchers in skills that are crucial for meaningful civic engagement: creating impact, inclusive collaboration, working with the media, and policy engagement.

Our workshop grants scheme facilitates civic mission work across Wales, including wellbeing for the North Wales Police (Wrexham University), citizen science in Caerphilly (Cardiff University), and capacity-building in data analysis for grassroots anti-racist and refugee organisations (University of South Wales). These small grants form a crucial first step for new and innovative initiatives that link researchers with civic society in Wales.

A forthcoming series of activities will respond to the recent Independent Commission for the Constitutional Future of Wales, itself a noteworthy example of substantial and meaningful civic engagement chaired by LSW Fellows Professor Laura McAllister and the Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams. This work is directly relevant to the people of Wales – covering justice, policing, transport, energy, and civic education – and we will need the expertise of our nation’s foremost researchers in dialogue with our communities to get the next steps right.

As the Commission begins work, we continue to grow as Wales’s National Academy, and the sector expands its ambitions in the civic space, there is so much more that we can do together, and a clear need to increase our efforts at LSW to support and catalyse civic mission efforts across the whole of Wales. We look forward to working with the Commission, our Fellows, and the wider sector to achieve our shared ambitions for Welsh research, innovation, and knowledge.