The CaST – Communities and Students Together project is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and focuses on how universities can work more effectively and more inclusively within their city communities by providing students with opportunities to work on local societal challenges.
The objective of the CaST project is to advance our knowledge and understanding of engaged learning and to develop and pilot a programme in each partner university which enables community-based engaged learning and/or research for students to work on real world societal challenges and co-produce knowledge with and for the community.
This project will boost partner universities’ understanding of the scope of and opportunities for engaged learning, helping them recognise and reflect upon the mutual benefits that an immersive learning experience can offer the student, the university and the communities with which they engage. Through the exploration of engaged learning in six different European Institutions, we will identify different modes of engaged learning practice, each with different drivers, enablers and barriers to successful engaged learning practice.
As higher education faces unprecedented public scrutiny and increasing pressures from the political, economic, social and environmental agendas, there is increased public interest in the impact of universities on their localities and regions, as well as growing calls for Higher Education Institutions to be more socially relevant and responsible, and stakeholders across all sectors expect to be engaged in the co-production of socially robust knowledge with demonstrable impact. Internationally, universities are responding by seeking to become more embedded in their local communities, and addressing local societal challenges through innovative collaborations.
Engaged learning is a process which facilitates students to apply theory to real-world contexts outside of the University and to co-produce knowledge with the community.
Through participating in engaged learning projects, students develop the skills which increase their employability: self-efficacy, team working, leadership, enterprise and project management skills, while learning to be flexible, resilient, and responsive.
Meanwhile, local communities gain access to supervised student researchers who have the knowledge and skills to help develop, evaluate or communicate their work.
A recent article in the Times Higher Education (December 13 2018) claimed that academia currently values innovation at the expense of implementation, and that academic research output is only loosely related to social value. The article advocates for graduate programmes to prioritise training in community-based participatory research, which can make research more directly relevant, and provide a mechanism to address health issues specific to under-served populations. Engaged learning, project-based learning or community-based knowledge exchange programmes can take many shapes or forms. The original “Science Shops” first established in the Netherlands in the 1970s, provided participatory research support from supervised university students for societal challenges in a demand-driven way. This model has inspired many different engaged learning initiatives, and currently, European universities employ engaged learning or community-based knowledge exchange across both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching practices to varying degrees.
What we will do?
Through sharing successful innovative practice and approaches, we want to better understand how we can design and develop engaged learning programmes where students and members of the community work collectively on problems and issues identified within the communities themselves.
→ We want to help universities nuance their partnerships, enabling them to tailor their approach to different contexts, maximising the potential for combined local impact and helping them to provide evidence and narrative of their impact pathways. New knowledge will help identify opportunities for community engagement which may lead to enhanced understanding of how local engagement can be linked with research, teaching and volunteering.
→ We want to drive commitment to the co-production of knowledge and innovation through socially engaged learning, where teaching is better integrated with local society. By identifying opportunities for engaged learning in different contexts, while better understanding the factors that determine the success of different engaged learning models as well as the challenges faced by participating partners, we hope to improve our understanding of how engaged learning programmes can be nuanced to be sustainable in different contexts.
→ At a local and regional level, we hope to improve reciprocity between universities and their society, where universities are more attuned to the needs of their city and region and can contribute to key civic agendas in a mutually beneficial way, through both engaged research and learning.
→ As service and authentic learning experiences are identified as high impact pedagogies, we would expect more and better community engaged learning to be beneficial to students. The project will also help nurture socially responsible students by providing new opportunities to undertake research into real-world problems, and equipping them with the skills to recognise and value the experiential knowledge of individuals, communities and civic organisations.
→ We want to explore and review engaged learning in the international context and in each partner country, and will seek to understand the practicalities and structure of existing initiatives, as well as capturing their impact on all stakeholders.
→ We will synthesise the findings and lessons, and publish a series of case studies and synthesis reports. Finally, we want to share learning and challenges around developing pedagogy and processes for engaged learning projects and use these to develop, pilot and evaluate a programme in each institute which aims to:
- provide students with the skills to solve societal challenges;
- support a mutually beneficial relationship between the university and their community;
- be relevant to the institutional, cultural, economic and political environment of the institute;
- be sustainable beyond the duration of project funding.
The project addresses:
- the ERASMUS HE PRIORITY – Building inclusive higher education systems (specifically connected to surrounding communities);
- the ERASMUS HORIZONTAL PRIORITY – Social Inclusion (actions that help address diversity and promote through innovative and integrated approaches - ownership of shared values, equality ... and social inclusion through education and training);
- the ERASMUS HORIZONTAL PRIORITY – Supporting individuals in acquiring and developing basic skills and key competences (students will gain a range of broad, transdisciplinary competences that will complement their academic learning and enhance their employability).
European Commission reference number: 2019-1-UK01-KA203-061463
Project Duration: 2 years and 8 months (1st December 2019 – 31st July 2022)