Among other universities in the Erasmus+ project SHEFCE, the Department for Continuing Education Research and Educational Technologies focuses its research on improving the universities’ societal commitment. Solid methods for developing action plans within the project’s framework are designed, options for policy-making considered, and, in the European context, new resources in terms of information and comparison are made available.
A long time ago, universities left their status of being an entity entirely committing its work on accumulating and acquiring knowledge, as the term “ivory tower” literally suggests. Now, following a modern self-conception, universities relate to society rather than disconnect from it. This commitment to act beyond university’s realms comprises different communities reaching from the public over the economic to the civil-society field.
The actors still lack essential elements for building bridges from the academic world to the practical concerns of society. The universities need concrete methods and instruments for their commitment, of which there are still too few. Political decision-makers still lack clear definitions of university involvement in the community, its dimensions, advantages and political options. Yet establishing partnerships with universities is for non-university institutions not easy. The international project team consists of 15 members coming from ten consortia in Croatia, Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Austria. It comprises seven universities, a regional university network, a non-governmental organization, and a company. In Austria, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research acts as an associated cooperation partner.
Desiderata for meeting societal challenges
The SHEFCE project aims to increase the contribution of European universities in terms of their societal commitment in the long term through partnerships with local and regional stakeholders. Following this path, societal challenges are met, one of which is Danube University Krems’ strengths, namely to engage intensively in identifying current and future challenges throughout its range of courses.
Four intellectual outputs are pursued: Firstly, the universities’ action planning will be substantiated in order to successfully engage in communities. Political decision-makers will receive developed recommendations, which, at the systematic level are directed to higher education matters and in terms of content to the support derived from the communities involved. The third sub-aspect broadens Europe’s scope by establishing a European online platform designed to engage the community in higher education. Finally, the fourth aspect involves developing a heat map, a kind of activity barometer to represent the commitment of the European higher education community.
Specific results on three levels of action
The project deals with three levels and all the resulting theoretical considerations are subject of a scientifically accompanied practical test. Thus, at the regional level, the resources for societal interactions are improved at five universities and their communities through institutional self-evaluation and action planning.
At the national level, the impact of increased awareness of societal engagement among five authorities or other actors will be investigated. Obstacles will be identified at the system level and evidence-based policy solutions developed.
At European level, the goal is to achieve more effective participation and direction in higher education through improved accessibility and quality of support resources. It is expected, that a foundation for comparison will be established in order to identify more suitable best practices, which will address the societal engagement of European universities in a transnational context. This foundation is designed as an innovative tool for evaluating the performance of universities in the field of societal engagement.
Project: Steering Higher Education for Community Engagement (SHEFCE)
Funding: EU – Erasmus+
Department: Continuing Education Research and Educational Technologies; Center Educational Management and Higher Education Development
Project Lead: assoz. Prof. Dkfm. Dr. habil Attila Pausits