New Commonwealth universities research community

The Association of Commonwealth Universities, or ACU, last week launched a Research, Knowledge and Information Community aimed at connecting university staff across the Commonwealth to share experiences and explore ideas and potential collaboration. It is the second of three communities – the others focus on community engagement and international education.

The ACU Research, Knowledge and Information Community was announced at an international ACU conference held in Johannesburg from 10-14 May in collaboration with the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association, under the theme “Research and Innovation for Global Challenges”.

The community is aimed at university staff who support and encourage – but do not directly engage in – the research process, including people working in libraries and information, and research management and administration.

The first ACU Engage Community kicked off last December and the third ACU Internationalisation Community will be launched next month.

“The ACU member communities bring university colleagues together around key topics in international higher education, enabling members to engage with each other and the ACU on the basis of shared professional interests,” Joyce Achampong, ACU director of external engagement, told the gathering.

“This issues-based approach, addressing key institutional challenges, aims to provide platforms to showcase good practice and actions to help members grow their activities in a variety of interconnected areas, better reflecting the university of today.”

The communities, Achampong told University World News, have grown out of the ACU’s former professional networks – for example, people working in human resources. “We have taken these and expanded them and made them more thematic.

“We want members to communicate with us, and for us to be able to communicate with them around what is going on in research, knowledge and innovation. We want people to engage more around what they’re doing.

“We’re a network, we’re about collaboration, and this is another way to get people to collaborate with each other rather than tell us what’s going on in the field of research and what underpins and supports research, such as libraries and learning communities.”

The communities, she added, also offer a valuable platform to engage higher education policy-makers and other affiliates at an international level.

Professor John Hearn, executive director of the Worldwide Universities Network and chair of the Australia-Africa Universities Network, said both organisations would join the new ACU Research, Knowledge and Information Community.

“Having the opportunity to speak with each other, to share what works and what doesn’t and put creative thinking to the community, is vital in this globalised world – not just with partners we have but also those who aren’t already there, who you can meet.

“When you think of the challenges in some developing countries and developed countries, they are just the same in different contexts. We need to stretch our imaginations and be part of that,” said Hearn, who is a member of the new research community’s steering committee.

The communities are run by a steering group that meets virtually four times a year and brainstorms issues and post questions and ideas, said Achampong. The website will feature blogs and forums where people can pose questions and seek contact with others working on similar issues or in similar areas. “We want people to get ideas flowing.”

“We will also work with organisations like the Association of African Universities and the Worldwide Universities Network to get the information out there. That’s how we will keep the community alive.”

The communities are free to join for all staff and students of the ACU’s more than 500 university members, and people may participate in as many as they feel are relevant to their work. Members will also receive Realising Research, the new community’s flagship publication, which was also launched at the conference.