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Public Engagement

The purpose of universities – reflections on Going Global and the CPE networking event

Simon Gaskell, QMUL President and Principal

Written by Charlotte Thorley,
Executive Officer for Public Engagement

Earlier this week I attended one of the wrap around sessions for Going Global, a conference for leaders of the international education sector, hosted by the British Council and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

This meeting was incredibly humbling, and yet exciting at the same time. There were many familiar faces in the room, including colleagues from Catalysts and Beacons for Public Engagement, but we were joined by representatives of a diverse group of education institutions, including delegates from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Columbia. No two situations were the same, and no two set of interests completely aligned. And yet, as the conversations went on, we kept coming back to a singularity of purpose. We all desired our institutions to be delivering significant benefit to our local communities and the wider world.

Simon Gaskell, our Principal and President was also part of these discussions and presented our efforts in strategically embedding public engagement here at QMUL to the participants. He ended with a challenge; universities should be principled institutions, and true to their values.

This simple statement, and a position many take for granted, resonated with the audience who went on to discuss the difficulties many face in delivering such an approach. With continuing economic pressures on the sector, and shifting external agendas, universities around the world are caught needing to adapt to the systems that will provide funds and bring in students. The temptation is to lose those activities that might seem additional to core purpose. It is Simon’s position that engagement of wider publics is core to the purpose of a university, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

At our recent networking event we saw many examples of projects taking place across the institution, and met even more colleagues whose projects are new to me or thoughts about engagement are still only just an idea. There is such passion, and such breadth in approach, from community-driven, skills-sharing co-production research to hours of outreach, enabling diverse communities to develop their own understandings of our research and its purpose, and everything in between.

In both previous and the current strategies we’ve made it clear public engagement activities were not an optional add on to academic activities but very much in of the mainstream of academic activities, in our terms expressed as a part of the knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination continuum.
Simon Gaskell, QMUL President and Principal

QMUL has developed a fertile land for engagement to flourish in; there is still more to do in making sure all our staff and students realise this potential, but we have come so far already. Going Global has left me with a pile of business cards and invitations to share our approaches and I welcome this, but it has also left me feeling proud, proud to be part of a principled institution.

By Charlotte Thorley
Executive Officer for Public Engagement
Queen Mary University of London



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