Cities as Learning Opportunities

Special Focus : Designing Vibrant and Purposeful Learning Communities
Learning Ecosystems and Leadership December 15, 2020

In a world where sustainable growth is the ultimate lever or hack to being in the big lists, cities have begun to recognize the importance of education & learning as one of their top priorities. The value of Human Capital over Financial Capital has never been more evident for cities that want to stand the test of time. 

According to an NBER Report, cities that have a high skill-base for their workers, are able to recover from negative shocks in their economy quicker. This majorly siphons in from the fact that educated individuals are able to diversify and work in unaffected domains and make the transition faster and easier while unskilled laborers have to either move out or go out of context in the situation, a situation that can very well be analyzed to what we have seen in the global pandemic. 

If we point the needle at pay-gaps in a community, 39% fewer workers from poor backgrounds would be in low-paying informal work if they were able to attain the same education level as workers from richer backgrounds, reports a Global Education Monitoring Report by UNESCO. This goes on to support the fact that education is the only tool that can close the gap on generational privilege, bring in future-ready employers to a city, increase employability and finally increase the city’s per-capita income causing real growth. Businesses can help governments create more rigorous and skills-based curriculum, highlighting employability skills like teamwork, communication, and presentation skills among others. Alternatively, businesses can also provide opportunities for teachers. Teachers are learners, too. For instance, a two-week externship for a finance teacher could allow them to practice their classroom knowledge and return to it with real-world examples. 

It is extraordinary to see how the UK has paved its path as a leading global center for learning with one in 20 people being a student in the country. Given the fundamental step to ensure a center’s success in the learning domain is accessibility, let’s talk about the UK’s Capital city, London that today houses more than 400 thousand students amongst whom more than 25% are international students. it’s a prime example of a city where policies are tailor-made to a student’s needs and comfort. These have acted as catalysts for success for the city and London over the past several decades has come up as the country’s, nay Europe’s most successful education provider. The UK was one of the first countries to introduce a one-year Master’s degree, making it one of the most economical options for international students. With access to more than 40 world-class Universities in the city, including gems like LSE, LBS, UCL, KCL, and more, London has made its reputation clear as the hot-pot of opportunities and a true cultural hub. Strong measures by the policymakers of the city along with the diverse course offerings and international research reputation have made the city of London a high preference amongst the student fraternity, setting an example for future cities to learn from.

Accessibility also hops onto a new tangent when countries like the UK introduced the online application platform, UCAS, which allows students to send their application online to British universities without having to send any posted documents. The relatively easier application process has been a contributor to the country attracting increasing applications by the year.

International networking is also a major consideration for students upon considering which university to study at. So, the UK is evidently a top learning center with over 450K+ international students pursuing their higher education in the country every year.

Another important element to factor in is building relationships with local employers. Many businesses want to give to the community and invest in it, but sometimes they aren’t sure where to start. Schools can also benefit from these partnerships, providing students with opportunities for success in the workforce, while engaging business partners for many roles: guest speakers, job shadowing, student conferences, mentorships, and internships. These types of activities can make learning more relevant by providing real-world examples.

Adding on to it, one can expect new learning centers to emerge when there is active engagement between colleges and young people. What emerges as the need of the hour is the integration of these universities with the real-time job market. Career Hubs are an exciting introduction that supports universities, training providers, employers, and career professionals to improve career support for young people in their respective geographies. They are focused on improving skills and opportunities for young people in the confines of their locations. 

It is also imperative for governments to empower businesses in creating a future-ready City. They must simplify local regulations for starting new businesses, establish incentives for small and large businesses to co-exist and innovate, create incentives for risk capital by providing easy grants, and lastly, encourage innovators to invest in community L&D.

Future-ready cities attract new industries, new jobs, and new people. A clear mandate has to come in where Public Universities and Schools are well funded and planned to take on its new incoming population. 

Education policies are the most important discussions on the table today, and need to be discussed during the city’s urban planning, where educators, both government and private sit down together and look towards the future of a self-sustaining “skilled” city that has very strong roots of educational support – where not just the technology – but also its humans make the city – a “Smart” City.