What have we learnt?: Scholarship of engagement

One of the outcomes of the What Have We Learnt? Event is that we have decided to build stronger links between researchers interested in how universities create and maintain communities. This interest connects to the interests of others at the OU and across the UK.

Paul Manners is the director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement. The Centre was set up in 2008 in recognition of a looming crisis in public trust and understanding of higher education. The THES of 24th November 2011 quotes Paul as saying that it is

public engagement, more than commercially orientated activities, that generates and sustains the social and public value of universities – be that through researchers working with schools, creating cultural events, volunteering or inviting public participation to shape research project..  Other sectors have got used to having to face a hostile press, a sceptical public and a squeeze on funding….Universities have been relatively immune until recently – but now the heat is very definitely on… We can’t assume that people trust or value our work, or understand its relevance. The solution isn’t to craft public relations messages or rely on figures of economic impact as a magic bullet. We need to get better at talking to people about our work, to take account of their perspectives, and to find ways to make our research and educational activities as relevant as possible to wider society, while holding on to the things we most value.

While the History Of  The Open UniversityProject was holding its event in Milton Keynes, over in Bristol the Centre was hosting ‘Engage 2011: Making an Impact – Public engagement and the 21st century ‘. This aimed to

  • To explore the relevance of public engagement to HEIs
  • To showcase and evaluate different approaches to embedding public engagement within HEIs (drawing on the work of the Beacons, Manifesto Signatories and others)
  • To explore what effective public engagement looks like, and how it generates impact
  • To discuss challenges for the engaged university in creating and sustaining meaningful partnerships
  • Paul will be contributing to the ‘Scholarship of engagement’ colloquim which is to be held at the OU on 6th December. The abstracts, biogs and pictures are available on the colloquium website.  A booklet of abstracts can be downloaded from here. If better connections are to be made between town and gown, ivory tower and tower block then we’ll need to understand how reciprocity has worked, or not, in the past. Networks (be they virtual or face-to-face) have a history and the OU’s engagement with the construction and maintenance of ‘publics’ is part of that important development.

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