An international project has been launched to support community engagement of European universities, understood as university partnerships with external stakeholders to address societal challenges. The project (entitled ‘SHEFCE – Steering Higher Education for Community Engagement’), which is funded through the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme, aims to build the capacities of universities, policymakers and stakeholders in Europe for mainstreaming community engagement in higher education. The SHEFCE project is led by the Institute for the Development of Education (Croatia) and gathers 22 partners/associate partners from six EU Member States. The associate partners include the European University Association, the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education, the European Students’ Union, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Council of Europe.
Community engagement is an integral part of universities’ ‘third mission’ activities. However, community engagement has so far been largely marginalised in higher education policy, with priority given to the the economic significance and impact of universities. The broader societal role of universities has begun re-emerging in policy initiatives, as reflected in the EU’s Renewed Agenda for Higher Education and the Horizon 2020 ‘Science with and for Society’ programme, as well as in the recent European Universities Initiative.
The SHEFCE project is a follow-up to the project TEFCE – Towards a European Framework for Community Engagement in Higher Education that has developed a toolbox to support universities and policymakers in supporting community engagement. The SHEFCE project will have four main outputs:
- University action-plans for community engagement at five partner universities
- Policy recommendations for system-level support for community engagement in higher education in five countries and at the EU level
- A European online platform for community engagement in higher education with resources and tools to support universities and communities.
- Piloting a European university-community engagement ‘heatmap’ to help universities learn from good practices at unviersities in other countries
The project’s partner institutions are five ‘action-planning’ universities (Danube University Krems, Free University of Brussels, Technological University Dublin, University of Girona and University of Rijeka) and experts in the field of higher education policy and community engagement (Association of Catalan Public Universities, Ghent University, Institute for the Development of Education, National University of Ireland Galway) and a social impact agency (Brodoto). The partnership is further supported by four local partners, three networks/national stakeholders and five international associations.
The SHEFCE project is co-funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme Strategic Partnerships in Higher Education and will last until August 2023.