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September 8, 2020

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There’s much talk at the moment of how anchor institutions – hospitals, universities, local authorities and so on – should be redirecting their considerable spending power towards the local economy. Community wealth building is the new zeitgeist. These aforementioned anchor institutions, and in particular universities, also have significant amounts of intellectual and social capital that could (should) be refocused to ensure greater community benefit. For some years, Glasgow Uni has been developing stronger links with the City’s Third Sector and is about to embark on the Third Sector Knowledge Exchange Collaborative in partnership with GCVS. Universities elsewhere, take note.


Glasgow University

As is the case for other sectors, the global pandemic will have significant impacts on the third sector. However, it is likely that it will disproportionately affect the third sector, just as the 2010 UK Government austerity measures did. The demand for services is ever greater in a time of need, and at the same time funding is increasingly constrained. This perfect storm will exacerbate the existing core challenges facing third sector organisations (e.g. chasing funding stream after funding stream), leaving them in a position where they can only really be reactive, unable to plan for the long term (including creating long-term strategies and writing business plans).

Universities and their campuses influence the economy, for instance via retail growth and providing skilled workers to the job market, and generally universities are important for creating prosperity in the communities they operate in. As a civic institution and as one of the largest organisations with charitable status in the city, the University of Glasgow can place greater, coordinated emphasis on its social impact; specifically with the local third sector.

The University of Glasgow’s Third Sector Knowledge Exchange Collaborative (The Collaborative), funded initially by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account COVID-19 funding call, focuses on improving the sustainability of Glasgow’s third sector, pivotal to community resilience, as organisations adapt, recover and transform from COVID-19. The Collaborative aims to become a sustainable cross-discipline hub for pro-bono advice and expertise for Glasgow’s third sector organisations that marshal University expertise on a variety of pressing issues in all phases of their lifecycle. This project will also benefit the University of Glasgow staff members and students who participate – increasing collaborations with organisations for research development, data collection and impact, and increasing opportunities for experiential learning for students.

The Glasgow Third Sector KE Collaborative consists of a network of academics at Glasgow who have an interest in bringing their expertise to bear in solving the pressing concerns facing third sector organisations. This expertise could come in the form of business or strategic planning, HR and recruitment, social return on investment, evaluation and research, computing and digital tools, or lobbying and advocacy (to name a few). A core set of academics interested in this work would serve as key champions and advisors to the third sector organisations alongside students who work with the organisations on projects via integrated coursework modules, internships or collaborative dissertations.

The Collaborative is organised by Dr Paula Karlsson-Brown (Adam Smith Business School) and Dr Sarah Weakley (Policy Scotland), with research assistance provided by Dr Jane Cullingworth.

In collaboration with project partner, Glasgow Council for Voluntary Sector (GCVS), we aim to get an understanding of the training needs of Glasgow’s third sector during the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, thus being better able to address those needs.

In the pilot phase of this project we aim to understand these needs, build the network of academics and third sector partners and organise two workshops. This initial engagement will provide the basis for more intensive one-on-one collaboration between academics and third sector partners in 2021.


Who will benefit from the project?

Impacts for third sector participants

All of the work undertaken at the Third Sector Collaborative will be pro-bono and at no cost to the third sector organisation, and the expertise provided (including real solutions and recommendations) by the University of Glasgow will be responsive to the needs of the organisation. This engagement will be for as long as the organisation deems it necessary or as long as mutually beneficial activities are found between the organisation and academics/students.

Impacts for individual academic research and teaching

Benefits to academic research comes from working with real clients to solve problems, which can be used both as research data (e.g. action research projects) and evidencing impact of one’s research. The production and development of teaching materials (e.g. teaching case studies) can also improve by creating greater connections with third sector organisations and maintaining a close ‘touch’ with practice, increasing the ability to create an ‘applied’ experience to teaching that many students are looking for.

Impacts for students

Benefits to students include gaining experience working with real clients to solve problems, work related learning opportunities to apply course topics and skills, and building connection with potential organisations for collaborative dissertations at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Involvement with The Collaborative offers students opportunities for invaluable professional and personal development; developing all of the University of Glasgow graduate attributes; and getting fulfilment from engagement in social action.