There is a growing interest in how universities work with the public to pursue projects that aim to deliver mutual benefits through engagement (Owen and Hill S, 2011; Watson, 2007; NCCPE, 2015) and while public engagement in higher education is not a new concept (Robinson F, Zass-Ogilvie I, Hudson R., 2012), there is now a need for greater accountability from funding bodies and authorities, increasing the need for universities to demonstrate how they connects their work with people beyond the campus (Wellcome Trust, 2011). This literature review aims to discuss two elements. It sets out to provide analysis of the existing literature around university-community engagement. It also identifies a gap in the literature around evaluation of engagement activities. Higher Education sees its third mission, beyond teaching and learning, as sharing its knowledge to benefit the wider public (Goddard J, 2009) (Boyer, 1990). How this is achieved can take many forms, from people taking part in research, school children participating in Higher Education taster days to community groups using campus facilities (Robinson F, Zass-Ogilvie I, Hudson R., 2012).How universities engage with people from outside their organisations differs from institution to institution (Universities UK, 2010) and how this is described is inconsistent across the sector, nationally and internationally (Hart & Northmore, 2011), (Mason O‘Connor K, et al 2011).
Definitions of this work will be considered, along with why different types of engagement need to be evaluated.
While some academics feel it is not the place for Higher Education to share the production of its work (Robinson F, Zass-Ogilvie I, Hudson R., 2012) many also argue that there are numerous benefits of public engagement (NCCPE, 2015).
The work looks at the arguments for engagement and subsequent evaluation in order to inform this debate.
There are five areas covered in this work.
Firstly, the historical context of universities’ relationships with communities is considered.
New factors that are contributing to a re-emergence of engagement are then looked at.
Definitions of engagement are explored
Arguments around why universities should connect with wider society are looked at and finally the paper looks at why evaluation should be seen as important.
History of universities and communities:
Higher Education’s attempts to work with wider society date back to the very origins of universities (Watson, 2009). Many United Kingdom-based universities were founded to serve a wider civic role for their communities, typically training a skilled workforce appropriate to the needs of the city (Watson, 2007). In the modern era, universities face a multitude of roles that have moved them far away from their origins (Burnes, Wend & Todnem, 2013). In The Changing Face of English universities: Reinventing Collegiality for the Twenty-First Century, the authors argue that education, research, public engagement, economic development, social inclusion and mobility are key functions that need to be delivered. They also argue that how these responsibilities are delivered differ from university to university with the older institutions like Oxford and Cambridge being more research intensive, while newer universities, like those that grew out of the polytechnic movement, being more concerned with teaching. There is an argument that during the evolution of the Higher Education system there appears to have been a shift away from serving the local needs of society in order to fill wider university commitments.
Some authors believe the post-war growth of universities created a situation where civic universities left their responsibilities behind, in favour of catering for a larger influx of students. The Robbins Report (the report of the Committee on Higher Education, chaired by Lord Robbins) was commissioned by the British government and published in 1963. Many authors point to the growth of student numbers in light of the report because it recommended that Higher Education should be available to everyone who was qualified to attend by ability or attainment (Robbins, 1963).
The terms of reference for the Robbins report were:
….to review the pattern of full-time higher education in Great Britain and in the light of national needs and resources to advise Her Majesty’s Government on what principles its long-term development should be based. In particular, to advise, in the light of these principles, whether there should be any changes in that pattern, whether any new types of institution are desirable and whether any modifications should be made in the present arrangements for planning and co-ordinating the development of the various types of institution. (Willets, 2013, p15).
In fact the Robbins Report recommended:
…courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so. (Robbins, 1963, p8
This quickly became known as the Robbins Principle and the report rested on this core value (Willets, 2013). Despite this, the Robbins Report may not have had the impact that it is credited with, as it actually took decades for the numbers of people attending university to increase.
Following the publication of the Robbins Report, growth in the number of university attendees was quite slow. By the mid-1970s, student numbers had only increased by about 10%. However, from the 1980s onwards, and especially from the early 1990s, the numbers increased rapidly to the extent that there are now ten times more English undergraduates than in the 1960s (Wyness, 2010). In context, back in 1939 there were 50,000 students in Britain, representing less than two percent of the eligible age group. Expansion began once the Second World War was over, and the University Grants Committee (UGC), which advised the Government on university funding, became more active (King, 2011). As numbers began to grow, universities began to change the nature of their work. King argues that there were two key developments that preceded the Robbins Report that led to changes in relationships between universities and their communities. The first was the foundation of a group of new campus-based universities and the Government decision in 1962 that the state would pay the fees of all students and give them maintenance grants to study wherever they wished. This changed an existing system of grants and scholarships. These events encouraged some universities to abandon their local roots and change recruitment. The new campuses meant scholars could move wherever they wanted to study and live in enclosed university communities (Anderson, 2010). King also argues that there were also other factors at play during the 1960s that affected the Higher Education sector and their sense of place. Several former ‘colleges of advanced technology’ were given also university status, disconnecting them away from their communities. It could be argued that the building of campuses and changes in funding to allow students to move almost anywhere to study had far greater impact on Higher Education than the Robbins Report, with the new campuses giving rise to the notion of “town and gown” where a disconnection was perceived between a university and the city where it was based.
They were defined as public sector higher education. Bathmaker explains that universities enjoyed considerable freedom and autonomy while the polytechnics and technical colleges were closely controlled with the aim of ensuring the needs of local economies were met. The adoption of the ‘binary’ policy in 1965 saw around 30 ‘public sector’ polytechnics created. No new universities were founded between 1969 and 1992 (King, 2011). For these reasons, it could be argued that the polytechnics, which later grew into the modern universities of the 1990s and beyond have had a greater sense of place and public service.
This idea is support by King who argues the Robbins era kept uniformity in Higher Education at its height as the binary system sheltered universities from wider social pressures, allowing many elite characteristics to be preserved. For example he states that research and postgraduate study became more important, giving British universities a high international reputation. These elite characteristics were based around the union of teaching and research and reflected the restricted social mission of the university (Anderson, 2010), based on the assumption that the subjects taught in universities had a collection of theory and knowledge that needed to be kept up to date by current research. Anderson says universities, recruited mainly from academic secondary schools that excluded the masses, controlled access to elite posts and higher social status. This elitism also filtered down in to subjects taught. Many vocational or technical subjects that did not fit the professional model were excluded from teaching. It could be argued that the binary system allowed polytechnics to have a stronger dialogue with local stakeholders like civic and industry leaders, as universities became more insular.
There were other reasons why the traditional civic universities had lost a focus of working with their communities. Despite high levels of autonomy, Government influences had significant effects on universities. With the election of the Thatcher government of 1979, all aspects of public spending came under close scrutiny. In 1981, the government announced that university funding was to be cut by 25% over three years (Burnes, Wend & Todnem, 2013). The affects were devastating for higher education and new terms began to appear in universities’ vocabulary around strategic planning, programme evaluation, value-added and performance indicators. In 1988, the government passed the Education Reform Act that abolished the University Grants Committee (UGC), which was seen as being soft on universities, and replaced it with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The Act also signalled the end of the ‘binary’ divide between universities and polytechnics, and led to another major change in Higher Education in the United Kingdom. By 1992, old and new universities were integrated, but hierarchies of prestige and quality were perceived to have survived, and a number of ‘mission groups’ were formed, reinforcing this idea. These differences were widened by an explosion of student demand with numbers more than doubling after 1992 from one to over two million (Coiffait, 2010). It could be argued therefore that the former polytechnics were able to better bear the brunt of this rapid expansion, by not pursuing an elitist agenda, but remaining loyal to their local roots by providing courses that were supplying practical skills and courses to support the local workforce.
A few years later, the landscape of higher education would change again with another major upheaval. In 1997, the Dearing Report, the first major review of higher education since Robbins in 1963, was published. Amongst other recommendations, the report called for students to make a contribution to tuition fees, thus endorsing the idea of the student as a customer. It also stated that the most important task of universities was to contribute to the UK’s global competitiveness in the ‘knowledge economy’ described as another push towards making research economically relevant and to distance research from teaching (Anderson, 2010). It is argued that English universities, under political pressure, have been trying to model themselves on private-sector organisations (Burnes, Wend & Todnem, 2013). This is in order to cope with five main pressures: greater governmental control; an expansion in student numbers, but a shrinking unit of resource; the need for internal flexibility and responsiveness in order to cope with the rapidly changing higher education landscape; the need to improve the student experience; and the need to improve the quality of staff research outputs. The Dearing Report made 93 recommendations. One of the main recommendations was that students should start contributing towards the cost of their education. To that end an up-front fee of £1,000 in 1998 prices, or £1200 in 2006 prices (25% of average tuition co to be paid by all home and EU students at UK universities starting their courses in 1998 (Wyness, 2010). The Dearing Report stated one of the purposes of Higher Education was to: ‘serve the needs of an adaptable, sustainable, knowledge-based economy at local, regional and national levels’ (Dearing, 1997). The author and chair of the review committee, Lord Dearing, noted that universities had taken on an importance in local and regional context that could not have been foreseen at the time of the Robbins Report in 1963, and reflected the centrality of higher education to the future economic and social wellbeing of communities. The Dearing Report stated that each locality and region needed the engagement of Higher Education and alongside working with local authorities and communities for economic benefit there would be an increasing need for institutions to provide programmes that respond specifically to local social and economic needs for lifelong learning and continue to play a part of the cultural life of their communities. The Dearing Report recommended that local engagement should be a clear element in the role of Higher Education over the next 20 years and each institution be clear about its mission in relation to local communities. The report also asked that universities have in place mechanisms through which community interests could be taken into account in decision-making. However the report’s recommendations of how Higher Education should be financed were adopted, and its suggested compact between universities to work with society to rise to modern day challenges was not focused on (Watson, 2007). Interviewed in the Guardian Newspaper 10 years after his report was published, Lord Dearing conceded his review did not do enough to explore Higher Education’s role in communities far enough:
…we might have done more to develop a relationship between parents, employers, students and government at local, regional and national level; between universities and society, he said. (The Guardian, 2007)
The main policy of the report, that students should contribute financially to their university study has become its legacy and it could be argued that the compact between universities to work with society to tackle modern challenges was never truly established.
Its aim was to consider possible future strategies for higher education funding in England. Its findings were published in October 2010 (Wilkins, Shams & Huisman, 2013). The report recommended that more of the burden of funding higher education should fall on graduates and that there should be no cap on the tuition fees that universities can charge students (Browne 2010). The review found that there was no evidence that the (then) current level of fees (£3225 in 2009–2010) had deterred students from participating in higher education. However, the UK coalition government felt that an unlimited tuition fee was politically unacceptable, and decided that from October 2012 there would be a cap of £9000 per annum in England (Business Innovation & Skills, 2011). Since the introduction for the £9,000 a year fees system in 2012 paid through a loan system by students, there have been calls for universities to have greater regulation in Higher Education. This is largely to reflect changing in funding and create a more student-centred approached to HE delivery (Universities UK, 2015). The marketization of Higher Education has led to greater expectations from students of what they expect from higher education. Key findings of a recent study, entitled Exploring the impact of policy changes on students’ attitudes and approaches to learning in higher education (Tomlinson, 2014) shows students expect higher education institutions to be well resourced and more transparent in terms of how fee revenue is being used and see a need for tangible improvement in their higher education experiences. However students attending university under the £9,000 fees system also perceived universities as having wider, longer-term benefits and as a vehicle for both personal and social change. Recommendations of the study identified how universities are attempting to tackle student concerns over employability and improve higher education experiences. Students need to develop employability skills which can stand them in good stead in applying for future jobs and build upon the wider experiences they gain within higher education, the report said. A further recommendation identified the benefits of extra-curricular activities for raising students’ profiles and providing them with invaluable life experiences. The report said students also need to be advised on how to package and present the experiences gained from these activities so that it can be used to their best advantage in the future. It could be argued that universities that offer public-facing activities like volunteering or public participation in research create activities that allow students to find the type of experiences they expect from studying in the era of the £9,000-a-year fees.
The re-emergence of engagement
These changes could be seen as timely as interest in the public benefit of universities in an era of the “knowledge society” is growing (2011, Higher Education and Society in Changing Times: looking back and looking forward). Knowledge societies are about communities having capabilities to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate and use information to build and apply knowledge for human development (UNESCO, 2005). Universities are expected to have an increasing responsibility to creating and sharing this knowledge. The growing interest argued in this work is expressed in financial terms as ‘value for money’ and cost effectiveness. But there is also a case for social responsiveness and social engagement (2011, Higher Education and Society in Changing Times: looking back and looking forward). Public accountability through sharing knowledge is often delivered through community engagement or service learning. It could be argued that these factors present universities with opportunities to reengage with their communities to appease concerns, or meet expectations in terms of value for money and social responsiveness.
Other factors, particularly since the global financial crash of 2007 have also presented new challenges for universities.
Wider societal issues like the impact of the subsequent recession and the burdens created by the United Kingdom Government’s austerity measures since 2009 have raised questions about the fitness for purpose of Higher Education to meet the challenges of the 21st Century (Goddard, 2009). Goddard supports the idea that universities were created in the Nineteenth Century to meet the needs of growing cities with local entrepreneurs and civic leaders responded to the needs for a region’s scientific knowledge and strong highly-skilled workforce by founding universities to meet these challenges. Goddard argues increased Government control of higher education and de-industrialisation, meant many universities have turned their backs on the cities in which they were based. Nearly all cities now have one or more universities, but these have lost sight of the key purposes for which they exist, he argues. Goddard calls for a reinvention of the broadly-based civic university, set in the context of a much more globalised economy and society. These civic universities would also be strongly connected to people and to place. They should be committed to generating prosperity and well-being and to balancing economic and cultural values. Civic engagement should be a matter for all universities, he says. However, it could be argued that in a marketised Higher Education environment, such calls are unrealistic. Calling for a reinvention of an institution which has faced several major upheavals over many decades may simply be unrealistic. Encouraging universities to find new ways engage with their communities, however, may be more feasible.
Definitions of engagement
Methods of university engagement with wider society are varied and complex. To this end there is no single description or definition of how work between Higher Education practitioners and the public should be undertaken. In fact there are many different terms used to describe how universities engage with the wider community. In Auditing and Evaluating University–Community Engagement: Lessons from a UK Case Study (Hart & Northmore 2011) ‘university public engagement’; ‘community–university collaboration’; ‘evaluation, audit, higher education’; ‘evaluating university– community engagement’; and ‘evaluating public engagement’ were all used by the authors to conduct a review of the literature. However, the number of key words that can be used to describe the work is vast and the authors search was not exhaustive. Other common terms including Service-Learning, community-based learning, civic learning, scholarship of engagement, learning-linked volunteering are all terms which are frequently used by universities in the UK. (Mason O‘Connor K, et al 2011). There are also a growing number of organisations using the term Citizen Science, where members of the public work with academic researchers on projects to gather data (British Science Association, 2015). The variations in definitions are problematic for researchers. To this end, this research refers to engagement as any way that a university connects with wider society for perceived mutual benefit.
Goddard’s idea of how universities should work with communities supports the definition of engagement produced by the US Association of Public and Land- Grant Universities Council on Engagement and Outreach where engagement must become part of the core missions of the association’s institutions (Kellogg Commission, 1999). The report was written to to rethink the role of public higher education in the United States in the context that “the United States and its state and land-grant institutions were facing structural changes as deep and significant as any in history”. However when explaining the definition of engagement, the report authors stressed that the concept “is more a state of mind than it is a practical definition of particular forms of interacting with our communities or special offices responsible for managing the relationships” Other definitions of engagement in US universities have been developed since the Kellogg’s report.
These include the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s Committee on Engagement that defined engagement as:
…the partnership of university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching, and learning. It noted the engaged university should also prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good (Fitzgerald, et al., 2012).
The report also highlights the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching also defined community engagement. It described it as:
…the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.
In addition, national higher education associations and organisations such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Community Colleges, the Council of Independent Colleges, Campus Compact, and Imagining America have developed and formalised similar definitions of engagement. (Fitzgerald, et al., 2012).
|Action Research||Kurt Lewin, then a professor at MIT, first coined the term “action research” in about 1944, and it appears in his 1946 paper “Action Research and Minority Problems”. (Innovative Learning, 2015).||Action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a “community of practice” to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research can also be undertaken by larger organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim of improving their strategies, practices, and knowledge of the environments within which they practice. (Innovative Learning, 2015).
The underlying principles of the action research approach include participatory character; democratic impulse; simultaneous contribution to social science (knowledge) and social change (practice). (Carr & Kemmis, 1986).
|Public Engagement||Public Engagement is a relatively new term and was not used widely before the 1990s. (Maile & Griffiths, 2014).||“Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.” (NCCPE, 2015)
‘The publicly engaged institution is fully committed to direct, two-way interaction with communities and other external constituencies through the development, exchange, and application of knowledge, information, and expertise for mutual benefit’. (AASCU, 2014)
|Community Engagement||What is Community Engagement? Though used in the 1950s and 1960s, community participation and similar terms became commonplace in the 1970’s. (Oxford Health Alliance, 2015).||Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. (NERCHE, 2015)
“By ‘community engagement’ we mean applying institutional resources (e.g., knowledge and expertise of students, faculty and staff; political position, buildings and land) to address and solve challenges facing communities through collaboration with these communities. … Community engagement is not necessarily scholarship.” (2005, Building Capacity for Community Engagement: Institutional Self-Assessment).
|Service-Learning||Origins lie in the social reform movements of the 18th century. Early writings cite the work of philosopher John Dewey and Jane Addams of the Hull House University Settlement Movement. (Flecky & Gitlow, 2011).||“… a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs, and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995)
“Service-learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities intentionally designed to promote student learning and development. Reflection and reciprocity are key concepts of service-learning.”
|An Engaged University||In 18th century US, the emergence of the land grant universities, identified a core role alongside teaching and research for agricultural extension or knowledge exchange. (Benneworth, 2009).
|“Seven guiding characteristics seem to define an engaged institution. They constitute a seven-part test of engagement. 1) Responsiveness … 2) Respect for partners … 3) Academic neutrality … 4) Accessibility … 5) Integration … 6) Coordination … and 7) Resource partnerships…” (Kellogg Commision, 1999).
When a university is civically and socially engaged, the effects can be huge. Focusing university expertise on improving living conditions in poor areas can make serious headway against social problems. As civic engagement elevates the quality of university teaching and learning, it produces millions of university graduates with both hands-on competence in their fields and a personal commitment to being agents of social change. And increasing public goodwill for universities can make government and private funders more generous in their financial support. (Hollister, 2015).
|Community-based Learning (CBL)||The foundations of community-based learning were laid in the when Jane Addams and friends established Hull House in Chicago. (See also Service Learning.) (2015, Community-Based Learning & Research: A Faculty Handbook).
|Community-based learning allows students to combine service in the community with academic inquiry. Community-based learning is a type of experiential learning; it is not simply community service nor is it an internship. Community-based learning is curriculum based, meaning that the community work is profoundly connected to and enhanced by the classroom lectures and assignments. As an educational philosophy, community-based learning fosters reciprocal learning and critical engagement and prepares students to be responsible participants in both their profession and their communities. Community service describes the efforts of individuals or groups who serve the community on a voluntary basis. The primary focus is the service being provided; there are usually no learning goals. Internships are designed for students in specific majors to gain hands-on experience for their future careers. This can be done for academic credit, but is often done without credit or pay. The focus is primarily on the students exploring career possibilities and networking for their own benefit. (2015, Community-Based Learning & Research: A Faculty Handbook).|
|Foundations in 1830s America, reached a highpoint in 1960s. (Putnam, 1995).||“Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and nonpolitical processes.” (Ehrlich, 2000). Page numbers
A study published by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University, divided civic engagement into 3 categories: civic, electoral, and political voice:
· Electoral Action: Things people do around campaigns and elections.
· Civic Action: Things people do to help in their communities or ways in which they contribute to charities.
· Political Voice: Things people do to give expression to their political and social viewpoints. (Circle, 2002).
|Engaged Scholarship||“Scholarship of engagement” is an emergent concept first used by Ernest Boyer in a 1996. (Boyer, 1996).
|“At one level, the scholarship of engagement means connecting the rich resources of the university to our most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems, to our children, to our schools, to our teachers and to our cities … Ultimately, the scholarship of engagement also means creating a special climate in which the academic and civic cultures communicate more continuously and more creatively with each other, helping to enlarge … the universe of human discourse and enriching the quality of life for us all.” (Boyer, 1996).|
|From 1870s, Higher education students in the UK have a long tradition of voluntary action. Volunteering at universities in United Kingdom has grown in status and credibility since 1997, supported and encouraged by successive governments’ policies. (Student Hubs, 2015).
|In 1990s student volunteering was connected to changes to higher education funding and students’ union reform. A growing emphasis on student volunteering for skills development and enhancing employability was part of the response to such challenges.
There was a further shift in the recognition of the role that student volunteering and community action could play in improving a university’s relations with its local community. (Student Hubs, 2015).
This study provides evidence to suggest that students experienced a range of learning opportunities through volunteering. This is not, perhaps, unexpected; in 1990 NIACE recognised that volunteering can provide individuals with recognition for their skills and learning, can help to motivate them in their training, provide them with opportunities to learn, progress, grow personally … by linking these outcomes to accredited learning, students were able to gain tangible recognition and academic reward for these learning processes. The study identifies that experiential learning can be linked effectively to programme outcomes, allowing students to develop competent behaviours within a professional environment and to identify their learning. (Weston, et al., 2013).
|Citizen Science||Citizen science is a fairly new term but an old practice, as early as the 17th century citizen scientists were developing collaborations and networks that professional researchers use today. Experts predict a promising future for citizen science when coupled with modern advances in communications and transportation. (Science 2.0, 2012).||Citizen science is defined as organised research where the balance between scientific, educational, societal and policy goals varies across projects. It is a growing worldwide phenomenon recently invigorated by evolving new technologies that connect people easily and effectively with the scientific community. New technology provides a valuable tool for citizens to play a more active role in sustainable development. (European Citizen Science Association, 2015).|
|Public/Community participation||Participation has a long history that has concerned Western philosophers for millennia. The UK has a long tradition of participation. The 1960s saw the introduction of numerous programmes to tackle poverty, disadvantage and racial tension, which included an increased emphasis on public participation (IFVR, 2009).||Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation is the process by which an organization consults with interested or affected individuals, organizations, and government entities before making a decision. Public participation is two-way communication and collaborative problem solving with the goal of achieving better and more acceptable decisions. (International Association for Public Participation, 2015).
Why should universities engage?
With so many definitions or types of engagement, it is clear universities do want to pursue the idea of working with communities, even if they are unclear on how this might be achieved. Arguments for why universities should engage are varied, ranging from the benefits they bring to the institution or individual to expectations that Higher Education has a social responsibility to work with others.
The United Kingdom-based National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) seeks to support a culture change in the HEI sector through to “making vital, strategic and valued contribution to 21st-century society through its public engagement activity”.
It also states institutions to demonstrate accountability in a climate of increasing scrutiny, through transparency as well as offering other benefits like improving a university’s brand, identity and trust (NCCPE, 2015).
. The report highlighted that engagement was increasingly becoming a requirement of funders. It was also claimed that engaging the public was a way of gathering increased research data. The report found that some scientists engage because they think it is more ethical, and some engage with groups of people because they want to see communities empowered, with increased critical consciousness and ability to protest.
The themes of engagement benefitting research and research activity where also argued by the report What’s In It for me? (Research Councils UK, 2014). The benefits of public engagement for researchers include researcher skills development, career enhancement, enhancing research quality and impact. These positive outcomes appear to have tangible benefits to the university or individual academic. It is not clear how the perceived outcomes to public participants like empowerment, critical consciousness and improved trust are measured, or indeed justified.
Some claims of these benefits to communities go even further. Ideas of positive outcomes for the public feature throughout a report by the Australian Universities Community Engagement Alliance (AUCEA, 2006) that made the case that engaged universities are essential for Australia’s economic and social future. The benefits outlined by the authors included enhanced human and social capital development, accelerated economic growth, improved professional and intellectual infrastructure in communities, and progress towards sustainability amongst a long list of outcomes. It argued:
Engagement can also produce benefits that have indirect, but nevertheless, measurable economic outcomes, for example, engagement that addresses social disadvantage could lead to improved societal health, less dependency on remedial education and welfare and increased rates of volunteerism.
Communities can also benefit directly from engaged teaching and learning, the report added. Benefits engagement brings to universities were noted around students’ learning outcomes through curricula that are relevant to community issues and priorities. Improved research opportunities, brand strengthening and a way to increase diversity were also cited as benefits, although no supporting evidence for any of the perceived benefits were included in the report.
The benefits of engagement to universities are easier to find, and demonstrate. Academically, the relevance of public engagement has long been recognised as a necessity to rise to the challenges in society. This is reflected in work like Scholarship Reconsidered (Boyer 1990) where the author argues that the first two kinds of scholarship are discovery and integration of knowledge and the third element is the application of knowledge, which moves toward engagement. At this point, he argues: “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems?”, because the answer would make the work relevant to society in the belief that universities were founded on the principle that higher education must serve the interests of the public, therefore it was a responsibility of scholars to work, or share their knowledge with others. Boyer’s idea, that it is the social responsibility of universities’ work to engage and support communities is something that has been prevalent in Higher Education since the early universities were founded (Watson, 2009). It is an idea that is prevalent amongst universities the UK and much talked about, however that does not necessarily mean it has being actively pursued.
Increasing university-community partnerships is now considered by some universities to be a necessity. It is argued that this is partly in response to a perceived loss of trust in governments and expert bodies in recent years (Rowe, et al., 2008). Public engagement, where the public (including stakeholder communities) are more directly involved in policy development and decision-making is vital to build trust and gain support for projects, they argue. The theoretical benefits of such enhanced involvement include:
… better quality decisions (achieved through including lay knowledge and values); easier decisions (through pre-empting public discontent); greater trust in decision-makers (achieved through demonstrating concern for public views); and enhanced public and organizational knowledge (through mutual learning).
Despite these perceived benefits the paper notes that there was no empirical evidence supplied to support the claims of such outcomes.
There is a gap in the literature to suggest that universities cannot back up their claims of positive impact to local communities through engagement. By evaluating activities, there is the potential to better record and demonstrate outcomes through quantitative and qualitative data.
Arguments for evaluation in the literature are around ways in which universities can learn from their activities and improve services (Manchester Beacon, 2011). There is also a trend amongst project and research funders to require evaluations at the end of engagement activities (NCCPE, 2015).
…very important and should look at the quality of the content, the delivery process and the impact of the activity or programme on the participants”. In doing so, the report states that it will give staff the opportunity to recognise whether they achieved what they set out to, how well they did it, what impact the activity had and to be able to reflect critically on both the activities and processes to benefit future projects. This information could also be used to demonstrate achievements.
It states that evaluation is more than just information gathering, but a process to explore information and ask questions about what it means, how it can be interpreted, and who has contributed to the information. Like other reports, the main benefit of evaluations was said to be their use in improving future projects as well as having the ability to promote the value of the work (benefits, outcomes and impact) to participants, interested parties, the media, directors and funders. It could be argued that cases put forward for evaluation serve the needs of the university better than those of the participants, helping staff understand what works to achieve their goals, satisfying needs of funders and demonstrating the work to parties interested in the work of the university.
Engagement activities and their evaluations are becoming more commonplace in Higher Education. As more information is gathered, questions need to be raised on what data is being gathered and how it is being used. The NCCPE say it is now a pre-requisite of many research funders now to include engagement activities as part of any successful grant application. (NCCPE 2015). This approach, however, could leave significant gaps in the evaluation process. This is acknowledged in a report by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) and the University of Bristol called ‘Researching the Engaged University’ (Facer, K., Manners, P., Agusita, E, 2012). It argues that community engagement by universities has the potential to serve as a powerful resource for informing our understanding of the potential of the university to contribute to the public good. But evaluation of such activity is poorly researched, highly fragmented and dominated by small-scale evaluation and advocacy, often based around case studies to satisfy research funders. To this end it could be argued that evaluations are open to abuse, pointing to significant outcomes for projects to justify the expenditure of large sums of money or to be used to attract further grants in a competitive market for project and research funding.
There are common themes that emerge in the literature that public engagement enhances teaching and learning and creates opportunities to share knowledge. Outcomes that cut across the core missions of universities are highlighted. The drivers for engagement in the literature are often linked to funding mechanisms, gathering research data and skills development as well as building trust and increasing the profile of the university. Some authors suggested that there were societal benefits including increasing social capital, progress towards community sustainability and economic growth linked to university-public engagement, although no evidence was offered for this. Academic arguments that universities need relationships with community partners to respond effectively to the needs of society were prevalent in much of the text. None of the literature explained why there had been a surge in interest in the public engagement of Higher Education other than a need to atone for a perceived loss of trust in public authorities, which included universities. However there was no evidence referenced to support the notion that such engagement was changing public opinion. Arguments for evaluation in the literature were often based on the university learning about what could be improved for future activities, as well as using information gathered to create marketing for future engagement activities as well as attract future funding.
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