A Civically Engaged University

A Civically Engaged University

Civic and community engagement is part of the life blood of our University. It happens at all scales, and at all levels - from individual staff or student actions, to school, college or curriculum level projects and right through to University-wide initiatives.

We are part of a global movement of civically engaged and socially responsible higher education institutions. UCC has received global reputation for leadership as a civially engaged university, recognised as among the best in class nationally and internationally for its civic and community engagement activities.

The University’s Civic and Community Engagement Plan outlines UCC's objectives to enact a strategic and coordinated approach, to raise the profile of civic and community engagement activities, to embed a culture of engaged staff and students, and to deepen our presence in the community.

This institutional commitment to be a civically engaged University is embedded in UCC leadership, policy, governance structures and enabling work to create the right conditions for best practice civic and community engagement.

We create the right conditions by supporting and facilitating:

  • Spaces for people to come together in partnerships and collaborations;
  • To engage in and build capacity for civically engaged people and practices;
  • Informing and informed by best practice, including research, strong institutions, and good governance.

National Policy Context

Civic and community engagement occurs within a national policy context that places responsibility on Universities to meet key national policy benchmarks, most prominently the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 (2012), the HEA System Performance Framework (2013), and Section 5.5 of the Mission Based Performance Compact Agreement between the HEA and UCC (2014).

As a signatory to Ireland’s Campus Engage Charter since 2014, UCC has committed to a view of higher education institutions having ‘open engagement with their community and wider society and that this should infuse every aspect of their mission’ (Campus Engage 2014).

Led by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Charter commits UCC to building ‘a campus community imbued with civic culture…’ and to pursue aspirations to ‘open our campus to local communities’ (Campus Engage 2014).

In addition Section 4 of the national strategy for research and innovation, Innovation 2020: Excellence, Talent, Impact (2015), focuses on innovation as key to social development across all disciplines, and emphasises the significant role of service and product users in addressing grand societal challenges and issues of public concern (Campus Engage 2016, p. 11).

There is also an increased emphasis on public engagement in key national and EU policies and funding calls from the Irish Research Council; Science Foundation Ireland; the Health Research Board; and the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, among others.

International Context

The EU Commission’s Renewed Agenda for Higher Education expresses a desire for Higher Education to “play its part in facing up to Europe’s social and democratic challenges. This means ensuring that higher education is inclusive, open to talent from all backgrounds and that higher education institutions are not ivory towers, but civic minded learning communities connected to their communities” (EU Commission 2017).

Accordingly many of the world’s leading research Universities are embracing civic and community engagement as a strategic priority to increase impact and visibility within their local region, nationally and globally; and to increasingly great effect in developing research activity, talent and societal contribution. These leading HEI’s position engagement as a central dimension of their institutional missions and scholarly agendas and view it as a key driver for building overall performance.

Underpinning Values

While engagement can cover a range of interactions, the policy and research literature is clear on good practice in terms of mutual benefits, reciprocity, and addressing power imbalances and inequalities. 

The University's Civic and Community Engagement Plan establishes the underpinning values which guide community enaggement in UCC: 

  Underpinning Values Emphasised in the Research Literature
Citizenship  Engagement is an institution wide effort concerned with the clear civic purpose of the preparation of an enlightened and productive citizenry and the production of independent thinking and scholarship that both addresses pressing problems and holds a mirror to society to facilitate critical self-reflection and self-correction (Hartley, Saltmarsh and Clayton 2010).
Transformative Engagement has a social justice orientation, developing community capacity to solve problems (Cook and Nation 2016) and sharing responsibility for achieving each other’s goals.
Recipricol Staff and students actively involved in community problem-solving, are in circumstances where they are part of community efforts to advance the common good, co-learning with the community (Cook and Nation 2016; Stoecker 2014; Reiff and Keene 2012).
Participatory The level of community participation in institutional planning for public service signals a level of commitment and importance for the role of public service to staff and community (Holland 1999, pp. 67- 70). A collaborative approach that has the aim of combining knowledge with action to achieve social change (Israel et al. 1998).

Research Context

The Irish National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 calls for a move beyond piecemeal or disparate activity to a comprehensive set of mission driven interventions to support University civic engagement.

Professor John Goddard, a leading international advocate for University societal engagement, advocates for the internal structures and the financial commitment required to establish a successful civic engagement ethos. He stresses the importance of an institution-wide approach:

Engagement has to be an institution wide commitment, not confined to individual academics or projects. It has to embrace teaching as well as research, students as well as academics, and the full range of support services. All Universities need to develop strategies to guide their engagement with wider society, to manage themselves accordingly and to work with external partners to gauge their success. (Professor John Goddard)

Whiteford and Strom (2013, p. 88) believe that realising engagement involves embedding engagement into the fabric and identity of the institution, becoming owned by the University from the top down. Similarly Furco and Miller (2009) argue that Universities with strong institutionalised community engagement are those that have a philosophy and mission that emphasises engagement, genuine staff involvement and support for engaged research or teaching, and an institutional infrastructure that supports engagement practice. Such foundational components work synergistically to build and sustain an institutional culture in which community engaged research, teaching, and public service are valued to the extent that they become fully infused within the academic fabric of a higher education institution.

Barbara Holland’s (1999) seminal meta review of Universities demonstrates that institutions succeed with civic and community engagement when there is consistency across mission definition, strategic priorities, budget actions, recognition and rewards, definitions of terms, internal and external communications, staff development objectives, curricular philosophy, and community relationships. Building competence and confidence in the techniques of public service requires an investment in staff development, such as peer development activities where staff partnered to learn from each other (Holland 1999).

Professor Goddard has argued that all publicly funded higher education institutions have a civic duty to engage with the wider society at local, national and international levels. He argues a successful Civic University must be transformative and responsive to the society it is a part of, fully engaged with its surroundings and a contributor in economic and social terms. Hence reflected in the work of successful engaged peer research institutions is the extent to which they are contributing to their local context. A clear competitive edge exists when communities and Universities work together to tackle challenges that matter to local communities (Holland 1999). Addressing local challenges does not restrict global reach in any way, it enhances it. 

The Irish National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 argues that the relationship between the University and the community is particularly important in the context of the promotion and achievement of greater equality in higher education. It calls for greater engagement and partnership between higher education institutions and community and voluntary groups, and sees partnerships as significant for progressing equality, community development and social innovation. It refers to community education strategies in particular as proving very effective in reaching out to nontraditional students and building community capacity.

Furthermore Ostrander (2004, p. 90) argue the University in the first place must build on a solid intellectual rationale that addresses and defines what the intellectual project of University civic engagement is. Ostrander argues that the rationale for civic engagement is to be found among three traditions 1) theories of pedagogy, group and personal transformation, self development, and individual change 2) theories of citizenship and grassroots democracy and 3) theories of institutional and social change with Universities as agents of societal transformation.

Similarly Cook and Nation (2016) refer to the fields of Community Development and Community Psychology, as providing a conceptual framework for understanding how Universities can empower individuals and develop systems to facilitate participation, build community, and promote social justice. Others specifically emphasise addressing real-world problems that are unresolved and ill structured (Evans et al. 2016) through pedagogy, developing student’s critical faculties beyond what is possible in more traditional curriculum (Bass 2012), with Kuh (2008) referring to student engagement through curricula as one of ten high-impact educational practices.

Definitions in Higher Education

The UCC Civic and Community Engagement Plan outlines a ciritical set of definitions for Civic and Community Engagement in the higher education context. 


  Civic and Community Engagement Defined  
The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (2006) definition is most often used by Universities: Community engagement describes the interaction with and collaboration between a University, its staff and students, with the wider community for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. The purpose is to enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; contribute to the public good; and make available cultural, recreational and other assets and contribute to the regeneration of neighbourhoods and community wellbeing.  Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (2006)
Campus Engage defines community engagement as: A mutually beneficial knowledge-based collaboration between the higher education institution, its staff and students, with the wider community, through a range of activities such as Community Based Research, Community Based Learning, outreach and volunteering.  Campus Engage (2009)
 The National Strategy for Higher Education defines HEI’s as: Increasing their engagement with business and industry, with the civic life of the community, with public policy and practice, with artistic, cultural and sporting life and with other educational providers in the community and region, and an increasing emphasis on international engagement. HEA (2012)
Within the scholarship of community engagement, it is seen as a method of research, teaching and learning: It is not an ancillary activity, but a way of doing higher education. It is undertaken by staff and students with and for a community partner, and is often embedded in the curriculum for academic credit through community engaged research and learning. Boland (2012)
Community Based Research: A collaborative approach to research that equitably involves all partners in the research process and recognises the unique strengths that each brings. It begins with a research topic of importance to the community and has the aim of combining knowledge with action to achieve social change…’ Israel et al. (1998)
Community Based Learning: Active, experiential or service learning for academic credit that is embedded in the curriculum, with global and local citizenship as a core value and outcome. It involves the integration of theory and action within a course or module, with reflection as a central element in connecting the active, experiential, or service part with the theoretical. It usually carried out in partnership with a community organisation in response to a community need. Campus Engage (2016)
Community Engaged Learning The collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. (Carnegie Foundation) 
Community Engaged Learning A form of experiential education with a civic underpinning. In practice, what this means is that students gain academic credit for the learning that they derive from participating in and reflecting on an experience within community and society (McIlrath and McDonnell, 2014) 
Community: Community is the context in which the University operates. It is a complex and multi-layered concept that embraces locality, identity and functionality. Community in all its diversity includes places (local, national and global), and communities of interest across social, cultural and economic forms. UCC’s working definition (2017)


Civic & Community Engagement

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