"It is about tapping into experience and ideas outside university," explains Tom Wakeford, the director of public engagement at Newcastle University, of the idea behind the "iknow" project.
The project has just received funding as part of a £9.2 million initiative to establish a network of six "Beacons for Public Engagement" to bridge the gap between higher education and the public. Announced last week, it is being billed as the biggest initiative to support public engagement that the UK has ever launched.
The Newcastle Beacon, a partnership of Newcastle and Durham universities, will get local people and academics working together in areas such as research into ageing, digital mapping and social inclusion.
"It allows academics to be citizens and citizens to be seen as experts by their life experience," said Dr Wakeford, explaining that £300,000 in project funding will be used to buy the time of 24 academics for a day a month.But when it came to designing the project it was pretty clear that an innovative way to reach part of the target audience, young people, would be needed.
"Iknow" enlists the help of a 16-year-old Newcastle internet entrepreneur, Jonathan Grubin (pictured left), and will work with the 3 Network, which will provide 100 mobile phones and free airtime. The phones will be used by youngsters to build a virtual social network with the academics, to draw all parties into the projects.
"It is targeting the iPod generation," Dr Wakeford explained.
The beacons are funded by the higher education funding councils and Research Councils UK. Five other beacons will be set up in Manchester, Norwich, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh with a UK-wide co-ordinating centre based in Bristol. Each will run its own local project as well as work to change the current culture in universities.