As higher education faces unprecedented public scrutiny and increasing pressures from the political, economic, social and environmental agendas, there is increased public interest in the impact of universities on their localities and regions and growing calls for universities to be more socially relevant and responsible by addressing the needs of society, both locally and globally. In recent years, the concept of the "third mission” has become popularised, referring to the social, enterprise, and innovative activities that universities perform in addition to core teaching and research tasks (Zomer and Benneworth 2011).
It is increasingly recognised that universities, when well-connected with their communities, can be a vehicle for making healthier, culturally richer and more interesting places to live, work and study. The civic university can be characterised by its ability to integrate its teaching, research and engagement with the outside world in such a way that each enhances the other without diminishing their quality (Goddard and Kempton 2016). Globally, more and more universities are integrating social responsibility into their mission statements, including those for research and teaching, arguing that higher education is improved when it gives back to the society that is responsible for funding it. Indeed, University Social Responsibility (USR) has become a core mission of many higher education institutions around the world (Timothy W. Tong, THE, April 7, 2017).
Through learning and sharing best practice, we want to drive institution-wide appreciation of and commitment to, co-production of knowledge and innovation through social engagement and citizen-led research, where the experience and expertise of individuals, communities and civic organisations is recognised, used and valued. We also want to understand how HEIs can build capacity to respond to what their local community really needs and perform or broker research (including community-based participatory action research), with and for communities, in a demand-driven way, while enhancing the civic competencies of students. A key goal underpinning the project will be to ensure that the project delivers a legacy of progress and impact that will last beyond the lifetime of the project.
The central aim of this proposal is to share experience and know-how of relationships between European Universities and their civic societies and to create a platform for practitioners to work together and learn from each other. We wish to partner with other European Universities within the EUniverCities Network, to explore the means by which cities are engaging with and mobilising citizens to facilitate teaching, research or volunteering opportunities and creating innovative solutions to societal issues.
Through sharing successful innovative practice, we want to better understand how we can improve reciprocity between academia and local society in order to address regional challenges and deliver local economic, social and cultural benefits and impact.
We want to explore and review the different models of community or civic university partnerships such as front-door (e.g. science shops), embedded and networked partnerships and define the processes, structures and governance which best nurture successful civic university partnerships.
We will explore the different approaches currently being used to include underrepresented social groups and ethnic minorities in the engagement approach and consider opportunities for improving equity throughout all stages of the collaborative process.
Finally, we want to identify opportunities to scale-up successful citizen-driven approaches and use partner cities as a test bed for their deployment