EUA organised a focus group for university practitioners across Europe to discuss how to articulate and implement strategies for public engagement on 19 January 2018.
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.
(Working definition of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement in the UK).
Universities need to be open. They have both the capacity and the obligation to play an active role as major civil society actors in their own right. Research and higher education have an increasingly direct impact on society, and universities must interact and engage in a dialogue with citizens and stakeholders in society at large.
Universities have been effective in involving the larger public in their activities for a long time now; the ‘ivory tower’ is long gone, and the concept of impact is becoming more and more important. The more universities become active as societal actors, the more they will be engaged openly and willingly in debates at the local, national, and global level for instance with employers, municipalities, or schools, in order to support skills development and foster innovation. This can take many forms, such as initiating dialogue around curriculum development and content, raising awareness of global challenges, and opening up the research and innovation agenda through ‘citizen science’, all of which can demonstrate how universities are a strong voice for evidence and knowledge in a time of ‘alternative facts’.
How do institutions across Europe engage strategically in sustaining a positive dialogue beyond their institutions? What are the good practices, where are the risks and pitfalls? The Focus Group on Universities and Public Engagement offered an opportunity to share practices and experiences among university leadership from all over Europe.