The European Commission has published a new report entitled Community Engagement in Higher Education: Trends, Practices and Policies, prepared by the EC’s Network of Experts on the Social Dimension of Education and Training.

Based on a comprehensive literature review, the report argues that universities play a crucial role in responding to societal needs and can further enhance their societal impact at the local, national or international level through community engagement. The report proposes a broad definition of community engagement in higher education, whereby:

  • engagement refers to the range of ways in which university staff, students and management interact with external communities in mutually beneficial ways, as a part of teaching and research or as a part of other projects and joint initiatives;
  • community is defined as ‘communities of place, identity or interest’ thus including, among others, public authorities, businesses, schools, civil society and citizens;
  • societal needs addressed through community engagement refer to all political, economic, cultural, social, technological and environmental factors that influence the quality of life in society.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report argues that the effects of the current crisis will arguably reinforce the priority of community engagement. The question of how universities can contribute to social and economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 period is likely to be at the top of policymakers’ agendas in the years to come.

The report was written on behalf of NESET by Thomas Farnell (Institute for the Development of Education, Croatia) and peer reviewed by Ellen Hazelkorn (BH Associates; Technological University Dublin, Ireland) and Dragana Avramov (NESET Scientific Coordinator).

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