Jul 17 2012 Posted: 15:00 IST

Higher Education Authority Chief Executive, Tom Boland recently launched a new book, Higher Education and Civic Engagement: Comparative Perspectives. Edited by Lorraine Mc Ilrath and Ann Lyons from the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teachingat NUI Galway and Professor Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic Engagement at DCU, the new book was launched following a round-table discussion on how to move forward the civic engagement agenda in Irish higher education institutions.

Welcoming the attendants, DCU President, Professor Brian Mc Craith, praised the publication of the book and supported the round-table discussion around how higher education could build civic engagement.

The round table included contributions from Tom Boland, Chief Executive of the HEA, Lorraine Mc Ilrath, Director of the Community Knowledge Initiative at NUI Galway, Dr Helen McQuillan, Manager of DCU in the Community and Madeleine Clark, Founder of Genio and Ashoka Entrepreneur.

Lorraine Mc Ilrath, Director of the Community Knowledge Initiative at NUI Galway, said:“The Community Knowledge Initiative began at NUI Galway with external funding and then became embedded within the culture of the University. There are now many initiatives in the area of community based or service learning and around volunteering which are ‘making a difference’ in the lives of students and in the wider community. This work also led to the HEA funded Campus Engage network designed to promote civic engagement across the sector and ‘mainstream’ if possible.”

Speaking at the launch Tom Boland outlined the new national higher education strategy and the important role of civic engagement within it. “It could contribute hugely to transforming research, teaching and the student experience. There is also a growing appreciation of the potential of higher education institutions to contribute to social equality and community development with much greater emphasis on principles of partnership, empowerment, participation and capacity building. Civic engagement would be promoted to drive this mission in a way which recognised diversity and distinctive ways of doing engagement and accepted that it could not be an add-on to normal business.”

Dr Helen Mc Quillanspoke to the very real problems in driving civic engagement within the higher education sector based on the case of DCU in the Community which is based in Ballymun in North Dublin. These initiatives do have a very real impact on individuals and communities which have, for long, been excluded from higher education. But to be successful and sustainable a very real ‘culture shift’ would need to occur within the institutions of higher education.

Madeleine Clark stressed the need to engage with wider social change and the creative ways in which profit-making and non-profit making organisations could work together to combat social exclusion through strategic people-oriented initiatives. She called for civic engagement ‘to become the developing mission of higher education’ and to become much more central in the work which universities to by offering a vision for social transformation.

Roundtable Chair, Professor Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic Engagement at DCU concluded that more needs to happen from debating civic engagement to implementing it: “Its potential to change the culture of higher education is clear as is its increased social relevance in a period of crisis. Campus Engage will be re-launched in the autumn to provide support for higher education institutions seeking to build a civic engagement mission and to create a vibrant network or community of practice. Civic engagement is here to stay, it’s not an add-on.”

Higher Education and Civic Engagement: Comparative Perspectives is available through Campus Engage, www.campusengage.ie.


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