Mat Wright

Going Global 2017 explored how universities and colleges support city-regional economies and social and civic engagement, connecting the world's cities to global knowledge and talent and addressing global challenges.

Global cities: connecting talent, driving change

We live in an era characterized by both globalisation and urbanisation with more than half of the world’s people living in cities and towns.

Universities and colleges are the global connectors among the world’s fast-evolving knowledge economies and cities are the beating hearts of innovation.

This urban-global age provides tertiary education institutions with unprecedented opportunities to mobilise their expertise, prepare young people for the future and drive forward research and policy agendas at the city, national and global levels.

Yet the urban-global age also poses challenges for universities and colleges and the cities and towns of which they are a part, not least because of the changing nature and locations of tertiary education delivery.

We examine this through four lenses:

Research and innovation

  • A focus on how international collaborations provide cities with access to the world class knowledge and connections needed to grow and sustain their innovation and creativity
  • How, from urban anchors, institutions are developing as dynamic global ‘multipliers’ connecting cities, businesses and communities globally.

Talent development and flows

  • How institutions’ role in producing highly skilled local, national and international talent facilitates the global flow and maintenance of international networks of influential alumni fostering the success of cities.
  • How the life of students in multinational cities impacts their personal career journeys, contributing to the diverse communities they join.

Societies and communities

  • How institutions’ understanding of social challenges and social change across the world contributes to international debates around the winners and losers inherent in the growth of cities.
  • How, as global connectors, they can engage local students, citizens and communities in building a connected global civic society able to deliver wider equity and prosperity.


  • How, as part of the leadership of cities, tertiary institutions contribute to the global positioning and influence of cities, to their diversity.
  • How their leadership connects international with national and local policy initiatives.

Further reading

The world’s cities are economic powerhouses for countries and regions across the globe. Today, half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050 that figure will be two-thirds. Already, cities generate around 80% of global GDP and are of major strategic importance. Some of the world’s mega cities have a population larger than that of small countries, while world cities are connecting with each other alongside or even independent of national level engagement. 

Successful cities are powered by innovation and creativity. In our digitally connected world where technology drives huge global change, the success of cities is sustained by their ability to attract increasing flows of fresh knowledge and extraordinary talent. Universities require ever greater numbers of innovators, researchers, inventors and educators to build their intellectual capital and cities in turn need to provide attractive environments in which such global talent pools can live, work and flourish. 

Today, universities and colleges are an important component of the innovation eco-systems of cities. They educate students to be culturally and globally aware; and, working with local governments and businesses, they serve as urban anchors supporting wider economic activity in the locality. But, as global connectors, they also have potential to become global ‘multipliers’, connecting cities, businesses and communities across the world. As such they are pivotal to the success of cities. The breadth and strength of their collective international connections and networks are unparalleled and these can be harnessed to support city regional economies. Over decades (and, for some, over centuries) they have built deep research collaborations and networks which cross national borders and political alliances. They have been the primary instrument in developing diverse and highly skilled talent and in facilitating its flow across the world; and they maintain global networks of influential alumni. 

Connecting and learning from each other, cities offer huge potential to tackle the grand global challenges, as well as to connect and build a global civic society. But cities also generate extremes of wealth and poverty; there are winners and losers. While the winners are highly connected, increasingly prosperous and have unimaginable opportunities, there are also those who feel dangerously disconnected and for whom cities are very visible and proximate sites of growing inequality.

As global connectors, what role do universities and colleges play here? For centuries they have enabled individuals to grow and succeed; they have also contributed to building and sustaining civic engagement and civil society across the world. Can their international connections and experience bring a balance between winners and losers? Can they engage and connect not only with businesses, government but also diverse citizens from across society and different parts of the world? The prize would be huge – not only in terms of innovation (from triple to quadruple helix) but also in terms of impact.  Are we witnessing the emergence of a highly connected borderless ‘Civitas’ capable of helping young people analyse, process and make sense of increasing complexity, and, ultimately, playing their role in creating sustainable, balanced and prosperous societies?