Mixed report card for academy's civic impact

April 22, 2010

Female academics are twice as likely to carry out work with charitable and voluntary organisations as their male counterparts, a study reveals.

The figure is cited in the latest of an ongoing series of reports for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, charting the progress of knowledge-exchange activities.

It also shows that social scientists are the most likely to work with charities, with scientists the least likely.

Across all disciplines, about a third of academics have worked with third sector organisations.

The report, commissioned by Hefce from Public and Corporate Economic Consultants, is titled Knowledge Exchange and the Generation of Civic and Community Impacts. It says teaching-focused universities are more likely than their research-intensive counterparts to consider community development as a "top-three priority".

Academics working in research-focused institutions ranked this as the least important criterion for their promotion prospects.

Exhibitions and performance art are the most popular civic events hosted by universities, the report adds, with free museums also benefiting from high attendance rates.

Leisure activities and access to sporting facilities are also popular ways for universities to work with local communities, it says.

A common form of public engagement among academics is consultancy work for charities and voluntary groups, as well as volunteering, which is also popular among students. But only 16 per cent of universities have a "strategic plan" to develop the community and civic impact of their work, the report states. A further 19 per cent have a "partially implemented" strategy, but the largest group (40 per cent) say they fall between these stools.

In the report's foreword, David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at Hefce, says: "There is still some way to go to enable communities themselves to have a say in how higher education defines and implements its community role and strategy ... How would I sum up at the end of the report card? Probably engaged and trying, but some way still to go."


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