15 Jul 2020

New Network report on community engagement in higher education

NESET presents a new analytical report “Community engagement in higher education: trends, practices and policies“, prepared by Network member Thomas Farnell.

The report argues (based on a comprehensive review of the literature) that universities play a crucial role in responding to societal needs, and can further enhance their societal impact at local, national and international levels through community engagement.

The report proposes a broad definition of community engagement in higher education, whereby:

  • engagement refers to the range of ways in which university staff, students and management interact with external communities in mutually beneficial ways, either as part of teaching and research or as part of other projects and joint initiatives;
  • community is defined as ‘communities of place, identity or interest’, and thus includes among others, public authorities, businesses, schools, civil society and citizens;
  • societal needs addressed through community engagement refer to all political, economic, cultural, social, technological and environmental factors that influence the quality of life within society.

While this report was drafted before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current crisis arguably makes the topic of community engagement more important than ever. The arguments presented in relation to the dimensions, good practices and benefits of community engagement will be highly relevant to policymakers and university leaders developing plans for the recovery and development of higher education in the post-crisis period.