The role of higher education in responding to societal challenges is re-emerging as a policy priority in Europe. Community engagement in higher education, i.e. how higher education institutions address societal needs in partnership with their external communities, is central to this debate.
There are many tools available to policymakers in higher education for steering, assessing and/or rewarding performance in higher education – from funding agreements and quality assurance mechanisms, to ranking, benchmarking and self-assessment. While many policy tools focus on compliance to standards or fostering competition, the publication argues that the tools best suited to support community engagement in higher education should focus on building capacities of higher education institutions for engagement and on facilitating a learning journey, rather than on compliance or competition. Namely, community engagement in higher education is context-specific and multi-dimensional and previous attempts to narrow community engagement to quantitative indicators have not been successful.
An optimal European policy framework for community engagement should focus on transnational learning, capacity-building tools and funding incentives. In parallel, bottom-up approaches are crucial in advocating and supporting community engagement, with the best approach in the European context being to build a network of community-engaged universities and create alliances with other networks at the global level.
The publication concludes that the TEFCE Toolbox, an institutional self-reflection framework for community engagement in higher education (www.tefce.eu/toolbox), can support institutions developing their community engagement, and could also provide the basis for a transnational learning tool and a capacity-building tool.