culture change, strategy and leadership

Championing university-community partnerships: Announcing our 2022 Engage Watermark winners

updated on 16 Oct 2023
5 minutes

Four UK Universities have been awarded the 2022 Engage Watermark, in recognition of their outstanding commitment to public and community engagement.

Diverse group of people smiling in front of festival tent
Image credit: Grant Archer. Provided by University of Derby

15 / 12 / 2022

Four UK higher education institutions have been awarded the Engage Watermark, a charter mark recognising outstanding commitment to supporting public and community engagement.

As we face increasing political, economic, and environmental uncertainty, there has been a growing demand on UK universities to fulfil their civic role and to ensure their work responds to the most pressing societal challenges.

No longer ivory towers, many higher education institutions are reassessing how they create and share knowledge. They have strived to work collaboratively with diverse communities, to make their spaces, research, teaching, and resources inclusive, accessible, and valuable to all.

How universities engage with communities, is recognised by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) Engage Watermark – a charter mark awarded to universities for excellence in their support and practice of public engagement across all aspects of their work.

The awards were announced live at the NCCPE Engage Conference 2022 on 15th December and presented by special guest host David Sweeney, former Executive Chair of Research England and one of the most influential figures in research policy in recent memory. 

The 2022 Engage Watermark winners are:

  • University of Birmingham - awarded the Gold Watermark, demonstrating substantial progress and exceptional strategic leadership in engagement since their Silver Watermark in 2018
  • Cardiff University - awarded the Silver Watermark and the first Welsh University to acheive this award
  • Solent University - awarded the Silver Watermark
  • University of Derby - awarded the Bronze Watermark

The winning institutions underwent a rigorous assessment process involving staff and students from across their campuses, and the partner organisations and communities working with them.

Winning an Engage Watermark is a significant achievement, demonstrating a high level of institutional commitment and a robust plan for further improvements.

Sophie Duncan, Co-Director of the NCCPE said:

“Since the early days of the NCCPE we have been championing a culture in higher education where public engagement can thrive. Never has this work been more important or urgent to address. The Engage Watermark offers a benchmarking opportunity for institutions to evidence their commitment and achievements – and we applaud the commitment of institutions who embark on this process with us and use the results to focus their future plans and ambitions to engage better with the public”. 

Scroll down to hear more about some of the excellent work being done by our winning institutions in collaboration with  communities, businesses and civic partners. 

University of Birmingham (Gold Award, 2022)

"I am very proud that the University of Birmingham has achieved the Gold Engage Watermark. It is a real credit to the excellent progress the University has made on our public engagement activity since we achieved silver in 2018.

"At the University of Birmingham, we pride ourselves on the impact that we have on the city and the Midlands region, not only as one of Birmingham’s biggest employers but through our research and our relationships with civic partners, communities, and businesses. Opening The Exchange in Birmingham city centre is a testament to the dedication that we have to our city and its communities, and we’re delighted to have that recognised by the NCCPE today."

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham

"This award is a demonstration of our strong commitment to the communities that we serve. I am grateful to all members of staff and students who have contributed to this significant achievement, making us the first Welsh university to be recognised for our work in developing and nurturing public engagement.

"Making higher education and academic research accessible and relevant to our diverse communities is at the heart of our strategy and ensures our expertise is having a tangible impact on those living in the Cardiff Capital Region, Wales and beyond. We look forward to building on this recognition further, so that we can continue to benefit all aspects of society."

Professor Roger Whitaker, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Enterprise at Cardiff University

"Receiving the Watermark is particularly important for a university like ours, that is committed to engaging with and supporting its communities. It not only recognises the broad range of public engagement activities undertaken by our staff and students, but also the success of our key community partnerships, including ABP Southampton Marathon and Southampton Football Club.

"The Watermark also highlights Solent University’s continued commitment to further growth in this area and - along with our network of public engagement professionals - we will continue to share best practice, learnings and opportunities to develop our approach.”

Professor Syamantak Bhattacharya, Provost, Solent University

University of Derby (Bronze Award, 2022)

"We are delighted to receive this Bronze Engage Watermark in recognition of the University’s ongoing commitment to high quality public engagement.

"At the heart of university life is the imperative to create new knowledge and understanding and develop valuable and effective partnership working. Our approach to this engenders formal engagement, not just with the University community but directly with the many communities that are within our region and beyond.

"We look forward to working with the NCCPE as we continue to build on our commitment to public engagement at Derby, one that delivers long lasting positive impact for our staff, students and the wider communities."

Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby