The impact of COVID-19 is putting universities’ approach to engagement under the spotlight. It’s demanding that we step up and genuinely connect with our communities – but at the same time, the wider economic fallout is putting huge stress on a fragile ecosystem of support for engagement.
It is this context that we are excited to announce a major new milestone in Warwick’s support for public engagement – without underestimating how challenging the next few months will be for all of us working in this field.
What’s happening now at Warwick has deep roots, and a bit of history is important. Back in 2015, Warwick was lucky enough to be funded by RCUK as one of the Catalyst Seed Fund projects – and this investment was instrumental in driving forward a culture of engagement with research at Warwick. Of course, engaging the wider world with what we do has always been hugely important to us at Warwick. Our portfolio of engagement initiatives includes the Warwick Classics Network, our work with Tate Modern on the Tate Exchange, hosting over 100 events as part of the British Science Festival in 2019, our involvement in Coventry UK City of Culture, and much more. These all illustrate the ways in which our staff and students have embraced the opportunity to reach out beyond our campus to work with our communities. Having a clear direction has allowed us to focus on building relationships, partnerships and networks both internally and externally.
Recognising that these activities are fundamental to a University’s mission, from undergraduate teaching to institution-wide initiatives (and everything in between!), we are now embarking on our biggest commitment yet. Pulling together the strands of engagement work across the University, we are excited to introduce the new Warwick Institute of Engagement (WIE).
Launched in October 2020, the WIE brings a new and different approach for Warwick, providing a tangible focus for engagement across the University. We are setting up a network for sharing experience and ideas, redeveloping training, making opportunities for ongoing interaction and collaboration with communities and key partnerships, all while putting engagement right at the heart of our undergraduate student experience.
Co-directed by Professor Michael Scott from our Department of Classics and Ancient History and Jane Furze, Director of Regional Strategy, the Institute’s innovative joint academic/professional service-led model will combine Warwick’s extensive expertise with thought-leadership and evidence-led approaches. Supported by our deputy director, Dr Rachel Edwards from the Department of Physics, we will act as a cohesive hub for engagement across the University.
Our holistic approach to engagement also extends to our curriculum, with the introduction of an interdisciplinary undergraduate module in Public Engagement. ‘Public Engagement: Connecting Communities to Research’ has been designed to give students a theoretical and practical introduction to public engagement. They will gain a solid knowledge of the complex challenges involved, as well as the rewards it can bring to themselves, universities and society. It is our intention that this is just the beginning of putting engagement on the map as a recognised and tangible part of the Warwick student experience.
The WIE will continue our work with all our partners in order to keep on identifying opportunities and producing outstanding engagement events on a local, national and international platform. Listening, learning and working with a variety of partners will not just benefit our home city of Coventry, but also our Midlands region and the wider world. The words ‘for mutual benefit’ will always ring true.
In addition to engaging the public with what we do and giving students an insight into the value of engagement, the WIE aims to form and influence policy within the University and the wider HE sector. To take on different perspectives, the Institute is to appoint 30 Foundation Fellows from among Warwick staff and students (and, in time, from our key regional stakeholders). They will take part in major public facing events and get involved in a new University-wide network for those interested in engagement, set up to share best practice and expertise. This will also give a voice for the importance of engagement within our student body, departments and faculties.
Once our Fellows are in place, they will be forming ‘Learning Circles’ to enable colleagues to share experience and provide thought leadership. They will do this by exploring key issues in engagement and the place of engagement at Warwick, helping to shape future University strategy and practice.
We know that embedding a culture of engagement requires enthusiastic support from the very top levels of the University. At Warwick, our Vice-Chancellor and University Council recognize the pivotal role of engagement and the WIE is a sign of the University’s commitment to ensuring it is valued, developed and celebrated. Working with our hugely talented staff and student communities, and collaborating extensively with new and existing partners, the WIE team is excited to start working with the NCCPE, our fellow public engagement professionals and practitioners to lead on innovative and bold engagement practice, to share ideas, and to ensure Warwick’s engagement with the public drives real impact for the communities we serve.
Find out more at: www.warwick.ac.uk/wie
Jane Furze, co-director of the new Institute will be a panellist at the NCCPE’s Engage Festival 2020, in a plenary session exploring Responsible Research and Engagement on Thursday 3rd December at 10.00am.
You can explore the Engage programme and book your week pass here.
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