Knowledge transfer at the heart of communities
“The University of Bradford’s approach to community engagement is based on it being embedded throughout the University as a whole and supported at the highest level,” says Steve Skinner, Director of Community Engagement at the University of Bradford.
Speaking at the AURIL conference in Birmingham, Skinner told delegates that the University’s work in community engagement is based on key principles. Bradford has a track record of matching University initiatives with community needs, and the principles of community engagement are now being embedded in all the University Schools.
The University’s success in engaging with communities and widening participation is in evidence through its large number of students from underrepresented groups. In 2002/3, 46 per cent of first degree entrants were from traditionally under-represented groups, compared with the national average of 28 per cent.
“We decided against a bolt on initiative,” says Skinner. “At Bradford, once the University had decided at a strategic level to aim to be ‘at the heart of its communities’, it took the time to thoroughly assess how it could do this and what the deliverables would be. This was done through a research project involving consultation with staff and partner organisations within the Bradford district. It was clear at the outset that the initiatives needed to be sustainable.”
HEIF 2 money has been used to fund the new Director of Community Engagement post, six Community Associate positions across the eight academic Schools, a dedicated Administrator and a centrally located Communications Officer.
Projects are co-ordinated by a new Centre for Community Engagement which as Director Skinner heads and include a range of initiatives, such as MBA students offering specialised consultancy support in marketing or business planning to local micro businesses.
Other initiatives include third year students at the School of Informatics working with voluntary organisations, social enterprises and businesses in a pilot project to offer multi-media support, such as website design, promotional films and re-branding. The University’s staff development services are also being opened up to voluntary organisations, organised jointly with a voluntary sector training provider.
In an effort to bring more new people on to its campus, the University is increasingly hosting local community conferences; a recent one involved over seventy ethnic minority groups.
“There is much good work to build on from the last few years and in the new Centre we hope to learn from other’s ideas and experience, says Skinner. “ I believe the key is to work in partnership with communities and local organisations, rather than parachuting in. Where possible the University organises projects in conjunction with existing agencies and voluntary organisations, and only when we can add value from a University setting.”
“Bradford’s high profile initiative has been down to the University taking community engagement to its heart and now establishing the Centre and the Community Associates as channels for communication and a resource to support initiatives and projects.”
“However, there’s a clear need for an agreed definition of successful community engagement in the University sector. Our next goal is to evaluate and define community engagement in HE by measuring the economic and social impact we’re having here in Bradford. This will be a year long project, undertaken by a part time research director and full-time researcher, and we intend to make the new assessment model available nationally.”
Jo Kelly | alfa