Community Engagement: What's happening at other universities? 


Linda Cuttriss, CDU’s Coordinator of Community Engagement, hit the road last week visiting six universities with an aim to understanding their approach to community engagement:

Charles Darwin University (CDU) engages with community, government and industry in many ways through education, training, research, consultancies and events. What we need now is a framework for capturing, recognising, evaluating and celebrating our engagement.

Input from CDU staff is crucial, but what’s happening at other universities? Last week I hit the road to find out by visiting six universities to ask about their approach to community engagement.

The University of Queensland’s ‘Boilerhouse Community Engagement Centre’ aims for just and sustainable community outcomes by developing collaborative responses to community issues. There is an action research approach with a strong focus on capacity building. Director, Michael Cuthill said the vision is ‘big picture’, strategic and regional with the aim of facilitating high-level policy and legislative change. For more information visit the Centre’s website.

Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) ‘Northern Corridor Education Precinct’ is a cross-sectoral education collaboration to improve pathways, retention and employment opportunities. Kelvin Grove Urban Village is a partnership between QUT and the Queensland Government’s Department of Housing that will integrate residential housing, a medical centre and a QUT campus including a Creative Industries Precinct. For more information visit QUT’s Community website.

RMIT’s Community and Regional Partnership Group is in transition. Amaya Alvarez says, “Instead of externally funded projects, the group is now developing curriculum around engagement such as ‘Engineering in the Community’ and in ‘Applied Communication’ where students learn through involvement in a community radio station”.

Professor Maureen Ryan, Director of Victoria University's Office for Community and Industry Engagement says, “The primary goal is for every student to be engaged in some way with their community”. The priority is to embed engagement into the university starting with staff position descriptions, course reviews and performance reviews. The ultimate aim is to engender a culture of engaged scholarship, engaged research. Campus Engagement Days are opportunities to draw together leading lights from the community, discuss local issues and shape new partnerships.

La Trobe University’s Office of Engagement and Enterprise is aiming to embed engagement through specific projects. Director, David Ensor says, “The partnerships must be genuine, it’s about aligning the university’s objectives with the partner’s objectives”. La Trobe is working with a cluster of SMEs in the olive growing industry that is proving beneficial for both the university and the growers. A partnership with local councils and natural resource management groups provides scholarships to address the critical shortage of civil engineers.

Swinburne University’s Centre for Regional Development has an impressive history of engagement through research with local government, industry, schools and community organisations in Melbourne’s outer East. Director, Anne Langworthy says, “The Centre is now charged with being the flag bearer for community engagement across all campuses by linking student work in the community that is underpinned by research”. Barbara Van Ernst, PVC Community Engagement and DVC Learning and Teaching says that partnering with councils, schools and State government helps build financially sustainable partnerships by pooling institutional resources.

The universities have different programs, different focus but there’s a common shift from an emphasis on community service to one of community engagement; that is toward more purposeful interaction based on mutually beneficial partnerships. As with CDU, they are all considering how to document and evaluate engagement and some are planning audits to provide baseline information. All are exploring methods that link strategic objectives to project outcomes, mechanisms that support engagement such as protocols, staff and student training, as well as opportunities for recognising and rewarding staff and students and celebrating success with partners.

If you have not received a request for feedback on a framework for community engagement at CDU, and would like to participate, please contact Linda Cuttriss, Coordinator Community Engagement: