Collaboration Between Universities: An effective way of sustaining community-university partnerships?

Jonathan Pratt, Steve Matthews, Bruce Nairne, Elizabeth Hoult, Stuart Ashenden


Abstract

This article highlights some of the opportunities and challenges that collaboration between higher education institutions (HEIs) can bring to the development of sustainable community-university partnerships. In particular, it explores the potential for universities to collaborate on building effective engagement mechanisms (such as helpdesks, ‘hub and spoke’ contact models, and research groups to review ideas for activities) that will support an ongoing flow of new projects and partnerships over time. It draws on evidence gathered from the evaluation and coordination of the South East Coastal Communities (SECC) program, an almost unique experiment in collaboration between English universities.

In an ‘age of austerity’, opportunities to reduce costs without damaging core services are of particular interest to public funding bodies. The article suggests that collaboration between universities may be an efficient and effective way of engaging with local communities, but that it is not cost-free, and high-level strategic buy-in within HEIs is required if community-university partnerships are to thrive in the current higher education funding environment.

The article also suggests that there may be a geographic dimension to effective collaboration between universities in both community-university partnership work and the mechanisms that support community engagement. Inter-university collaboration across the whole region covered by the SECC program has been much weaker than collaboration at a subregional level and within ‘city-regions’ in particular. This raises a key question: does the natural geography for effective collaboration between universities need to reflect, at least in part, the geographies of communities themselves, in terms of lived experiences and/or community representation? Such a debate has interesting and timely parallels in the United Kingdom, where the new coalition government is bringing about a fundamental shift in the geography of public administration, with the aim of both increasing democratic accountability and improving the spatial fit between policy interventions and economic and social ‘reality’.

Keywords
Community-university partnership, collaboration between universities, engagement mechanisms, sustainability, geographic communities

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