Higher Education Research Centre
Professor Maria Slowey, Professor Ronnie Munck, Dr. Elaine Ward, Professor Hans G. Schuetze

New ways for universities to engage with regions and communities - Hans G. Schuetze

On 4 March, Hans G. Schuetze, Emeritus Professor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada delivered a talk entitled Regional Engagement and Service Mission of Universities: North American Perspectives. This was the third of a lecture series co-sponsored by the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) DCU, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA) The event was chaired by Professor Maria Slowey, Director of Higher Education Research and Development, DCU, with participants and discussants Professor Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic and Global Engagement, DCU, and Dr. Elaine Ward, Higher Education Policy Research Unit, DIT.

In the changing environment of international competitiveness, economic globalisation, trends towards commercialisation of university research and teaching, there is also an increased demand to demonstrate ‘relevance’ and ‘impact’ of universities on local and regional communities. While the pursuit of knowledge transcends national boundaries, historically, the identity – and mission- of universities is strongly associated with the town, city or region in which they are located.  Universities are therefore both embedded in regional environments, yet also international in relation to the pursuit of knowledge. Sitting alongside the classic two missions of teaching and research, internationally there are new attempts to recognise the ‘third mission’ of higher education variously entitled civic, community or regional engagement: a theme highlighted in the recent Hunt report on Higher Education.

Professor Hans G. Schuetze

Throughout the course of the seminar, however, the speaker demonstrated that community engagement can be undermined by the “reinforcement of research function by international rankings and ‘academic drift’ by new universities and non-university institutions”.  He continued that it is essential that communities of researchers and policy makers continue to pose questions such as: “How do we measure community engagement? Should all universities have to prove relevance and impact, including some degree of community engagement? Should community engagement be made mandatory and carry equal importance and prestige as research and teaching?”

Speaking at the event Professor Schuetze added: “Because of the wide variety of forms of engagement and the different objectives of evaluation, outcomes of community engagement and community-based learning can rarely be precisely defined, assessed, quantified and compared”.  A major part of the challenge lies in finding ways of promoting genuine dialogue and interaction between institutions of higher education and the wider community in order to bridge the gap: “communities have problems, universities have departments”.

Professor Hans G. Schuetze, is a Fellow and former Director, Centre for Policy Studies in Higher Education and Training, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and also a Senior Honorary Research Fellow, University of Glasgow, Scotland, UK.