From the 14th to the 16th of September 2017, the Community Knowledge Inititive at ILAS, NUI Galway welcomed over 350 international delegates from across the USA, South Africa, Egypt, Europe, South America and Australia, to mention a few,  to the 17th International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement Annual Conference (IARSLCE).  National University of Ireland, Galway was particularly proud to host this important event as this marked the first occasion that this was held outside North America.  NUI Galway has been chosen given its international reputation for placing civic engagement and service learning as a core pillar of the university experience.  For three days, the delegates discussed the role of higher education within society through community engagement and service learning.

 CKI 2 2017

Keynote speeches were offered by a range of international experts including Professor Imanol Ordorika form the Autonomous University of Mexico on the theme of “Social Activism and Politics: A New Paradigm for Universities?” And an international keynote panel took place to address impact of community engagement on students, community and universities that include perspectives form the USA, South Africa, Europe and Ireland.

Service learning is a teaching approach that connects student learning to the needs of community.  Since 2004, NUIG has been offering up to 2,000 students an opportunity to connect their learning to community, Lorraine McIlrath Director of the Community Knowledge Initiative at NUI Galway and Conference Programme Chair says that “students at NUI Galway have an opportunity to use their knowledge to connect with real world problems - engineering students design and build prototypes for people with physical disabilities, nursing students address the implications of nursing in a Irish multi-cultural context and law students offer pro bono legal information to community partners.  We feel that this type of learning can open students minds to their role as agent of change within community and society”.

The theme of the 2017 conference was “Gateways - Charting New Territories & Forging Relationships”, which had been inspired by a myriad of international debates, concerns and discourses.  The current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, has spearheaded the discourse of ethical renewal within the context of Ireland.  He is a former member of faculty at NUI Galway, a poet, cultural icon and philosopher who has a sharp sense of the role of university within society.  His “Presidency of Ideas” continues to encourage all to recognise and be open to new paradigms of thought and action; to develop a new public discourse that places human flourishing and an ethic of active citizenship at its heart.  He believes in the concept and practice of knowledge democracy and that “knowledge, insight and vision are put at the service of the community.  With the privilege to pursue knowledge comes the civic responsibility to engage and put that knowledge to work in the service of humanity” (2012).  While this is an on-going Irish debate it has international application, and is at the heart of the IARSCLE ethos and mission. 

In addition, the CKI hosted Bright Club, as part of the extensive conference social programme.  Bright Club, described as the 'variety night for lateral minds', is a public event where academics receive training and perform stand-up comedy to discuss their work. The CKI are particularly excited about this as Bright Club creates an alternative and rich context where academics can share their work with the wider public and meet those from different disciplines. Speakers on the night included both NUIG and international conference delegates, along with a host of professional comedians, with Áine Gallagher from the CKI acting as the MC for the evening. 

Further information:

Lorraine McIlrath