New platform for university engagement launched

The Association of Commonwealth Universities launched a new initiative, the ACU Engage Community, at the Talloires Network Leaders Conference 2014. The platform will provide a forum to disseminate knowledge and project management skills among practitioners and share news about opportunities in community engagement.

The ACU Engage Community initiative builds on the success of the ongoing ‘World Beyond 2015 – Is higher education ready?’ campaign and the ACU’s University Extension Network.

“These two initiatives have created a bridge that we want to cross and see the importance of universities and their community engagement practices in action,” said Joyce Achampong, ACU director of external engagement.

“Universities are key players in social, economic and cultural development and this is a position we want to promote,” she said.

The platform

Achampong said the platform sought to bring institutions closer to communities around them, discuss their engagement work and share best experiences and practices.

“We need to hear from members of the university community as they share information, not as ivory towers but as institutions that come to the people,” said Achampong. “We are looking for story-telling on networks in universities and projects with a social impact.”

She said examples of how South African universities preferred to use the radio to share research findings because of its wide reach, and how in Kenya universities consider advertising in local newspapers to showcase their work, display how different flows of information are maintained among diverse universities and communities.

Professor Shaun Pather, head of strategic initiatives at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa and chair of the ACU Engage Community, said there was a big gap around relevant community engagement by universities around Africa that needed to be addressed.

“There is a cycle of carrying out research in communities, but when results come out they are not shared by the communities and often solutions are not directed back to those communities due to various challenges. But there are those who are doing it the right way,” Pather said.

“We are looking at working as a catalyst for university engagement with communities, an engagement that provides solutions,” he added.

Professor John Wood, ACU secretary general and outgoing member of the Talloires Network steering committee, agreed.

“As the world’s oldest international university network, we have had these networks before. But we are keen to know what universities do in their social engagements, how universities in small islands help their communities and how others across the world can find resonance in their actions.

“It also turns out to be an opportunity to see how community engagement develops.”

He said the platform would try to break discipline barriers, whether in energy, water or diseases, and let people know how they can improve their lives.

“There is a need to tackle scientific diplomacy – academics talk to each other but politicians hardly talk to academics,” Wood told University World News.

Achampong said the new platform was open to more than 500 member universities in the world, their students, academics and staff members.

The ACU Engage Community will strive to unite research managers, industrial liaison officers and distance education managers, she said.