Why we've signed the Manifesto
"Aston has a strong social purpose and the university strategy is focussed on serving its beneficiaries: students, external organisations (comprising businesses, public entities, the not-for-profit sector, and the professions) and Birmingham and the West Midlands region and wider society. We have been an integral part of our City region since 1895 and a partner to its employers and communities, advancing knowledge, supporting innovation and promoting social inclusion.
Strong engagement with the public is vital to inspire the next generation of students, to ensure that we are playing our anchor role in the region and to generate maximum impact from our research, teaching and operations as an employer and procurer of services in the region. That is why we have pledged to develop a civic university agreement and are working with regional bodies and engaging with the public to deliver an agreement that meets their needs and makes a transformational difference to Birmingham and the West Midlands region.”
Mark Smith, Executive Director, Business and Regional Engagement
Our approach to public engagement
Our approach to public engagement draws on innovative community-facing activities across the University and we are constantly developing new and exciting ways of engaging with the public and look to the diverse communities around us to contribute, collaborate and coproduce initiatives with us. Our public and community engagement partnerships play a key role and include Citizens UK, Aston Villa, the Titan Education Partnership and regional Schools & Colleges. This has led to key initiatives such as; the Business Leaders project with between Citizens UK members and our Centre for Research into Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship, Villa Vision with the Aston Villa Foundation supporting eye health in local schools and our widening participation and outreach work with the Titan Educational Partnership, local schools and colleges to support social mobility.
We support public engagement centrally and within our Colleges. The focus of support is on: (i) Volunteering, (ii) training in public engagement for staff, students and partners and (iii) knowledge exchange for collaborative research, work-based learning, placements and events.
Our website showcases facilities (such as the sports centre and Conference Aston), health clinics (optometry, audiology, epilepsy, dyslexia and outpatient MRI) and events (Aston Talks, open days) that are all open to the public.
Our public engagement hallmark
Building an Inclusive Ecosystem Project: Building links across communities, institutions and sectors to support local growth
The ‘Building an Inclusive Ecosystem’ (BIE) project provides business support to entrepreneurs in three disadvantaged areas (Lozells, Small Heath and Sparkhill). It comprises a unique partnership of researchers (CREME), civil society (Citizens UK Birmingham) and the banking sector (NatWest Bank).
The first phase of the BIE project exceeded targets by: providing support to over 50 businesses, interacting with 219 entrepreneurs who had not previously engaged with business support providers; and developing a unique and scalable model of inclusive business support. The next will: draw on the lessons of the first phase; deliver bespoke business support to growth firms in the three areas; and provide a clear pathway to ensure that such support becomes part and parcel of ‘mainstream’ business support provision.
Our public engagement talking point
Aston University has been at the forefront of widening participation and supporting social mobility for many years and with great success. It is a specialist university that services its industrial and social base.
One of the challenges Aston now faces is understanding the changes that are occurring in the wider region, in terms of attitudes to future careers, economic migration and the shifting mix of local industry. In a region that is reliant on manufacturing and technical skill, the future of a technical University in the context of the development of Industry 4.0 means that we must be much better at equipping our students with skills that allow them to pivot roles as opportunities arise.
How do we ensure our public engagement activities enable us to start, and develop, this dialogue?
Our public engagement people
Dr James Brown, Associate Dean for Public Engagement and Director of Aston’s Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, College of Health and Life Sciences (J.E.P.BROWN@aston.ac.uk) has been at the forefront of public engagement for many years featuring in TV programmes including Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds - developing a framework for measuring impact of public engagement that resulted in several peer reviewed papers demonstrating the effects of public engagement activities (see Aston University's Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Roadshow - and 'The Drugs Don't Work: evaluation of educational theatre to gauge and influence public opinion on antimicrobial resistance'
James also directs the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing. This includes engagement with a panel of more than 100 older adults (aged 55+) who comment on the research direction as well as receiving newsletters and invitations to take part in research and events, playing a really valuable role in ensuring that research is relevant to the needs of the community.
He has also given pint of science talks to reach a wider public audience and gives educational talks to diabetes support groups across the Midlands, updating them on latest research.
Dr James Brown filming for ITV Tonight: OAP Bootcamp
Dr Angela Jeffrey, Director of Regional Strategy: firstname.lastname@example.org