Aberystwyth University

Why we’ve signed the Manifesto

"Founded almost 150 years ago with the ‘pennies of the people’, Aberystwyth University has a long and proud tradition of public participation. We are a dynamic institution established by the community, for the community. By signing the Manifesto, we are confirming the importance of Public Engagement in our modern mission. As a university, we are dedicated to making our world class research as widely accessible as possible, fostering relationships with our communities, stakeholders and larger publics that are sustainable and reciprocally nourishing."

Professor Richard Marggraf Turley, Professor of Engagement with the Public Imagination

Our approach to public engagement

We believe Public Engagement is a powerful tool for common good that can inspire, enrich, empower and enable. We are committed to sharing our research and professional expertise as widely and productively as possible, an ethos of inclusivity that informs, enhances and enlivens our work across the arts, sciences and humanities. Whether engaging local families with research as diverse as robotics on Mars, new food crops and artificial intelligence, or enhancing Wales’s A-level Science curriculum, developing creative projects with disadvantaged groups and informing government policy, we are building long-term relationships that deliver genuine benefits.

We also recognise the benefits of public engagement for our own researchers, academics and students. For researchers, engaging with the public can lead to more urgent, more considered, more impactful projects. Research councils and learned societies acknowledge and reward PER in academic scholarship and fellowship. For students, public engagement instils a sense of civic responsibility while providing access to networks of experience and expertise. Recognising these mutual values, we have made engagement meaningful to our postgraduate community by embedding PER into Research Skills training. Our undergraduate students also have the opportunity to learn about and practice engagement through volunteering, community placements and public events.

Our commitment to dynamic, synergistic engagement with our local communities, visitors to the region and wider stakeholders has resulted in an ambitious project to transform Aberystwyth University’s iconic Old College building (the birthplace of Higher Education in Wales) into a bespoke centre for vibrant engagement and creativity, once again returning zest for learning and transformation to the heart of our community. Supported by a generous Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the building is scheduled to open in 2022, coinciding with Aberystwyth University’s 150th anniversary.

Our public engagement hallmark

Aberystwyth University’s Sustainability Network (SusNet) Wales School University Partnership Initiative

From small beginnings to big ambitions: Aberystwyth University public engagement activities help to tackle national skills shortage. Public engagement with research is most effective when it is co-created. Our multi-disciplinary collaborative partnership between Aberystwyth University (AU) and Ceredigion schools and colleges engages students directly with practising researchers. It delivers Blended Learning Environments (BLEs) themed around Sustainability and Social Responsibility developed and delivered by AU researchers in collaboration with school teachers to add value to, and extend, the range of A-level activities. The project aims to inspire young people by directly engaging them with active researchers, enhancing their experience of contemporary research. The geographically remote location of Aberystwyth and its surrounding costal-rural communities means that local students have few opportunities to take part in national events and exposure to contemporary research can be difficult for schools to orchestrate. SusNet Wales provides unrivalled opportunities for engagement with world class research, coupled with the ability to communicate through English or Welsh, encouraging young people from diverse backgrounds and abilities to pursue relevant post-16 studies, establish their careers and become better informed global citizens. 

Diverse in content, each BLE combines face-to-face and online learning activities. Our core Research Skills and Global Citizenship BLEs underpin the academic BLEs; developing understanding of the research process and key academic communication and transferable skills. This is a true partnership where teachers, students and researchers are involved in the design of research-led academic BLEs that add value to the A level curriculum and provide a true taste of University ‘life’. All AU faculties have been involved in the delivery of SusNet activities in STEM, Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences. Over the funded life of the project SusNet delivered >20133.5 SUPI engagement hours (Holliman and Davies, 2015).

Our ethos is that learning is a lifelong and holistic experience that facilitates personal transformation and our project offers transformative opportunities for all involved. For example, students experience real research and get a taste of ‘University life’. Teachers are invited to inform the design and delivery of subject-specific BLE content and continuing professional development (CPD). Researchers are encouraged to use their SusNet experiences for professional recognition e.g. Higher Education Academy and learned societies Fellowships, which benefits the University through impact on our own teaching (and research) practice and more widely through impact in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). 

The success of the SusNet project has been recognised locally (within AU), nationally in Wales and more widely in the UK by learned societies and UK government. The project informs pedagogy and strategy within the University and more widely within education in Wales and beyond. For example, the SusNet team have been invited speakers and Panel members at AU teaching and learning conferences and contributed an invited case study to the UK government and Universities UK Social Mobility Working Party on working with rural communities. SusNet was Highly Commended in the Sustain Wales awards, which recognises the delivery of the seven national goals of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, Wales (2015). The work the SusNet team has been recognised by the Higher Education Academy, through the award of Senior Fellowships, and by the Royal Society of Biology. 

The lessons learned from SusNet have been put to work in developing a pan-Wales STEM initiative, Trio Sci Cymru, resulting from collaboration between Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea universities, the Institute of Physics and the Welsh Government. Working with the pre-GCSE age group, Trio Sci Cymru aims to encourage improved uptake in STEM subjects in schools in our unique geographical environment; particularly where there are pockets of deprivation and stereotypic threat that prevent young people from reaching their full potential.

Our public engagement people

There are a number of engaged colleagues at Aberystwyth doing fantastic work and sharing their practice and experience across the university – one of which is Dr Hannah Dee from the Department of Computer Science.

Hannah has been an inspirational figure in championing women in technology through such platforms as the annual BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium (conference for women in IT). In addition to supporting and advancing women in Computer Science, she is an activist for getting girls into STEM subjects nationally. For the last six years, she has featured in Computer Weekly’s Top 50 Most Influential Women in UK IT, and this year was voted in the top 10. Locally, she has been a key figure in running Aberystwyth’s after school robotics club as well as the town’s community Science Café. Dr Dee is also an energising supporter of Aberystwyth University’s Public Engagement Café, and has been instrumental in breaking down silos across the sciences and humanities.


Richard Marggraf Turley, Professor of Engagement with the Public Imagination