Foreword from Lesley McAra
The University of Edinburgh has always been closely intertwined with the City of Edinburgh and its local communities.
Founded by Edinburgh’s Town Council in 1583, we are the oldest university in the English-speaking world to be established on a civic foundation and, as such, place a special importance on how we engage with our city, our region and its various communities.
In the early 20th Century, this relationship was exemplified by the University Settlement movement, which sought to alleviate poverty across the city and empower communities. Fast forward 80 years, and the University is now a key partner in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, where we are putting our excellence in research and education at the service of communities, government and industry, to realise the benefits of data driven innovation and promote inclusive economic growth.
In 2016, the University of Edinburgh became the first university in Scotland to have a formal community engagement strategy, and our new University strategy (Strategy 2030) reinforces the significance of our relationship with our communities even more, by placing social and civic responsibility at the forefront of our ambitions.
This new strategy commits us to deliver positive change locally and regionally, as well as globally, and that has been the ambition behind this new Community Plan.
In the spirit of co-creation, we have tried to develop the actions in this Plan in consultation with a wide range of communities external to the University, as well as with our own staff and student partners. We are conscious, however, that the University has not always got its relationship with communities right in the past and so we have approached our task in the spirit of humility and realism, and have welcomed and acted on the feedback we have received.
At the time of writing, we are living through extraordinary times. The Covid-19 pandemic has cruelly highlighted the fragility of our social, political, cultural and economic institutions. Indeed, the differential impact of the virus on our communities reflects and reinforces a global social order riven with inequalities. Likewise, the Black Lives Matter movement has exemplified how important it is for us to really listen to, and act on, the concerns of our BAME communities.
I believe that higher education, in general, and the University of Edinburgh, specifically, has a critical role to play in supporting the city and region’s post Covid-19 recovery and regeneration in positive, measurable and sustainable ways. We can also help communities interrogate the history of slavery and colonialism and the ongoing impact it has in today’s world.
The commitments outlined in this Community Plan will, therefore, find their first test in how we contribute to these very current challenges but, in the longer term, we hope it will help to embed our desire to partner with all local communities to help deliver positive change, and show our willingness to be a good and welcoming neighbour to those around us.
In implementing our plan the safety and well-being of the community, our students and staff is of the highest priority. We will always be mindful of the need to adapt in times of social distancing and lockdown. In implementing our commitments we will always follow public health guidance.
We want to be a university of, with, and for Edinburgh and the wider region and I look forward to working with you to help us achieve a better future for all of our communities.