The New University: Local Solutions to a Global Crisis by James Coe

The cover of The New University, featuring a globe wearing a mortarboard

Focusing particularly on the importance of community and localised responses, The New University considers the position of universities in the UK today and where things might go next. Using the emergence from the pandemic response as a starting point, James Coe uses the lenses of work, opportunity, place, and relevance to think about access to universities, their position within communities and the country, and how research can be funded, in order to put forward a proposal for the ‘new university’, or an updated way of working.

I read this as someone who works in a non-academic job in a university, so I found a fair bit of it quite similar to the sorts of things you would typically hear from people within a university, but there are some interesting points to be found within it. The question of how a university fits into the place it is in, and its perceived relevance to various communities, is a crucial one and the chapter on that provides a starting point for thinking about if universities really do bring local benefits and if people see that they do. The section around needing flexibility in admissions, especially post-pandemic when they did start to happen in some cases for admissions and might be quickly rolled back, was another interesting chance to rethink something that has otherwise been seen often as quite straightforward, in terms of getting grades, even with some consideration of school and local area context.

As a quick take on where universities might go next and deal with various crises, The New University is a chance for people to think about higher education in a slightly different way. For a lot of people already thinking about the current state of universities or their many flaws, the book won’t necessarily offer much new, but it could be eye-opening to people who’ve not really thought about universities in terms of community and place before.