Universities as part of communities – What do *we* mean by engagement?

I’ve just come back from the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) Higher Education conference hosted by Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona.

In the broadest sense the discussions there centred on the creation and use of knowledge in society and its social impact.

The delegates came from all over the world, but much of what we were meeting to consider about university community engagement is shown in this animation from Simon Fraser University in Canada:

So that institution has defined their version of all-encompassing engagement across internal and external activities. At the conference it was noticeable that universities and practitioners globally face similar challenges with regard to public and community engagement.

But what do we, the Jisc Business and Community Engagement (BCE) Team, based at Jisc Netskills and Jisc infoNet, mean when we talk about an engaged institution?

Wider range of stakeholders

For a start, I think we talk about business and enterprise, alongside engagement, more explicitly. It would be good to think of businesses being part of the community, but usually business engagement is treated separately from community engagement, both in terms of institutional strategies and in what people working in engagement do.

Typically UK universities carry out learning and teaching and research and development. Then there is a broad selection of other activities, often involving other partners external to the organisation.

Engagement is commonly used to refer to external interactions, but we consider engaging a wider range of stakeholders beneficial, from staff and students to members of the public and businesses.

For example, embedding employability into the curriculum can engage students and also involve engagement relationships with businesses. We talk about the activities in terms of four dimensions: employer engagement; lifelong learning; knowledge exchange; and public, community and cultural engagement.

Strong links to institutional strategy

As a team we’ve worked to identify activities and people working in the dimensions to develop good practice, share advice and develop new tools to help them do their jobs better. We’ve published some of the findings in a range of synthesis reports.

Working with Jisc innovation programmes and other sector partners, our overall aim has been to help develop more engaged institutions, which run successful business and community engagement activities.

Typically institutions that are successful in this area are good at clearly communicating and embedding BCE in their institutional strategy.

The kinds of tools that we are currently busy promoting include the Relationship Management infoKit, which offers advice around the challenges faced by institutions in improving and maintaining their relationships with a range of different partners, who all have different needs and expectations.

A series of workshops is currently running to demonstrate how you can use a Professional Development Diagnostic Tool for Business and Community Engagement. This was developed to address the skills needs of the increasing number of staff in education and research who have new collaborative and enterprising aspects to their roles.

Check out the rest of our resources in our BCE team blog, or get in touch with any questions.

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  1. Pingback: Learning from international perspectives | Netskills Voices

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