The Tories shouldn’t overlook the valuable contributions universities make to ‘left behind’ communities

In many of the constituencies that Johnson will need to retain if he is to win the next election, the local university has been one of the few beacons in a bleak few decades, writes Ed Dorrell

Saturday 16 October 2021 10:53 BST
<p>Teesside ‘red wall’ non-graduates seemingly support their higher education institution</p>

Teesside ‘red wall’ non-graduates seemingly support their higher education institution

I run a lot of focus groups in a lot of places. There are more than a few moments that live long in the memory, but one came specifically to mind this week when I was thinking about the renewed political interest in the slightly nebulous idea of “civic pride”.

This focus group took place in the northeast. I was talking to a bunch of working-class non-graduates – the new Tories if you will – about local education when one 58-year-old semi-retired ex-steel worker from Middlesbrough turned to me and said “the local university is the pride of Teesside”.

It was not, I must be honest, exactly what I was expecting. It didn’t reflect the stereotypical "town and gown" divide. Indeed, my new friend was not alone; the rest of the participants soon fell in behind him. They were, to a man and woman, very supportive of the contribution that the University of Teesside made to their community. They knew more than might have been expected about its research strengths, its work with local communities and its economic impact on the life of their town.

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