Your University - Your Research

6 Oct 2012

Your University - Your Research: Linking Higher Education research with community groups through innovative projects ...‌

How many people in the community feel that they can connect with what is going on inside the walls of our third level institutions? What happens to all these projects that students pursue in order to obtain their degrees and advance their careers? Do they gather dust in the archives never to be looked at again? Does the research really matter to anyone else except the student? 

University College Cork is one of the first Irish third-level institutions to address these questions by initiating a pilot project called Community - Academic Research Links, CARL, where students and community partners collaborate on research projects to address issues posed by the community partners. In its short existence, CARL has produced impressive and important pieces of research that have generated a huge interest outside the university walls and the project reports have even had an impact at government policy level.

CARL is an example of community based research or a “Science Shop” project and follows a 30 year European tradition with similar initiatives on-going in some of the highest ranked Universities in Europe. The impact of these short student projects can be considerable.

For example, a recent CARL project looked at respite services for people with intellectual disabilities in County Clare. The research examined an innovative and cost-efficient type of respite called “Home Share” where host-families welcome children and adults with disabilities into their own homes as an alternative or complementary to more institutional services. The students presented their findings and discussed their recommendations at two national conferences and the HSE referred to this research in their newly published report “Respite/Residential Care with Host Families in Community Settings”. Home Share Clare was successful in leveraging funding of €30,000 for the continuation of the project and was featured on RTE’s Nationwide on July 27th 2012.

Ground Floor Discussing Report

Launch of CARL research report for YMCA ‘Ground Floor’ project (L-R)Anna Kingston, CARL coordinator, David Backhouse, YMCA’s Ground Floor project, Gillian O’Shea, CARL student researcher, Trevor Holmes, UCC’s VP for External Affairs 

‌A second CARL project examined the impact of a local youth work project being undertaken in Cork City and was undertaken collaboratively between Gillian O’Shea, a Master of Social Work student in University College Cork, and David Backhouse, “Ground Floor” project coordinator. In speaking about the CARL initiative, the community partner, David, said:

“I would recommend CARL to similar organisations, absolutely. It brought UCC into our sphere and gave us a nice snapshot of what we have achieved so far, but also what challenges might lay ahead. From an external point, we used Gillian’s research to connect with other YMCA projects and also to have that third party involved gave more credibility.”

The research findings support the need for continued funding for this type of youth work where young people are given opportunities to play an active role in decision making. Many young adults attributed social integration and the opportunity to be exposed to a culturally rich environment as positive impacts which Ground Floor has had on their lives.

Speaking at the launch of YMCA “Ground Floor” project report UCC’s Vice-President of External Relations, Trevor Holmes, emphasised the impact of CARL and community based research saying:

“An engaged university is a university that runs in partnership with stakeholders outside of the campus. It breaks down barriers but it also builds bridges, using academic theories to explain real life situations. It also makes graduates more employable in the future where they have actually gone and applied academic skills in the real world in a real world situation. When these students go to work for someone else in the future their research experience will be highly valued.”

Other research conducted with CARL included a collaborative project between a UCC student and Post Natal Depression Ireland. The project aimed to establish a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence of postnatal depression and determine the peer supports and policies for this condition in Ireland. The research findings highlighted deficiencies in services in Ireland and provided the organisation with valuable information for its future development. The results of this research were presented to the Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Older people, Equality and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, TD, at Cork University Hospital on September 28th as part of the PND’s 20th Anniversary celebration. The Minister expressed great admiration of the student’s research and encouraged her to forward her report to the Mental Health Commission. 


PND Launch Student CSO TD
Launch of CARL research report at Post Natal Depression Ireland’s 20th Anniversary event (L-R): Teresa Cronin, CARL student researcher, Madge Fogarty, Post Natal Depression, Ireland, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Older people, Equality and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, TD 

A total of 15 CARL-projects have been completed free of charge in UCC in the last two academic years and the topics have mainly concerned social issues such as disability, youth work and provisions for elderly, but with projects also in the area of environmental research, occupational therapy and epidemiology. As the projects are completed as part of the student’s academic requirement, there are little or no cost implications for the University.

There are currently 22 research proposals from CSO’s on the CARL website which are available for next year’s cohort of students who wish to pursue this type of community based research. CARL invites non-profit voluntary or community organisations to suggest potential research topics that can be pursued by students across all academic disciplines. CARL has recently been included in the forthcoming UCC strategic plan which maps out key activities of the university until 2017 and the aim is to encourage students across all other university departments to engage in research that is meaningful to people in the communities. 


Civic & Community Engagement

Comhpháirteachas Cathartha agus Pobail

University College Cork, Cork, Ireland,