Exploring the value of a community embedded university
Deakin University recently received funding from AdvanceHE’s Future Student Experience Project to explore the idea of a Community Embedded University (CEU). The Future Student Experience Project is part of AdavanceHE’s Collaborative Development Fund and aims to investigate various possible future scenarios of the student experience based on current trends both in and outside of higher education, such as climate change.
Analysis and co-design
Associate Professor Darci Taylor, Dr Mollie Dollinger and Lea Piskiewicz used co-design workshops with students and staff and a desktop review to explore a potential definition, and corresponding principles and practices of a CEU model. Darci reflected, ‘We wanted to challenge the traditional idea that university must be predominantly globally focussed, and consider how a modern, innovative university would also be able to build strong ties with local communities.’
The desktop review was structured using the PESTLE framework, examining the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental factors that might affect an Australian CEU. The co-design workshops, (also known as CoLabs) were led by Dr Dollinger with the aim of bringing together diverse voices and perspectives to explore potential value propositions of a CEU to students, staff, and local communities.
Drivers and disruptors of a CEU
The project has identified a number of drivers and disruptors that impact, and underscore, the possibilities of a CEU model.
There were a number of economic factors identified by the project. Increased job mobility means that students want more opportunities for work placements in a variety of local industries, as well as an ongoing alumni relationship with their university to help them grow their personal network. Continuous reskilling throughout a career was considered important, as well as the role that the CEU could play in supporting regional and Indigenous-related tourism.
The social factors driving a CEU included an emphasis on ethical business practices, with a desire for universities to have a strong mission statement and for ethical issues to be built into coursework. There was also an emphasis placed on the importance of recognising diversity and providing accessible and inclusive digital spaces.
From a technological standpoint, students want to be able to access learning throughout their life, whenever they need it, with the option of an online learning experience for added flexibility. Technology is also driving healthcare and emergency response innovation in local communities.
Environmental factors were also of great concern. With climate change having a significant impact on farming, communities are working with universities to explore innovative farming techniques. With increased automation in the farming industry, universities will play a huge role in reskilling the local workforce. Innovation in the field of renewable energy and further research into climate change trends were also identified as drivers of a strong Community Embedded University.
The team will continue to explore how the research can support Deakin to greater engage and collaborate with local communities across learning experiences and research partnerships. A full report will be published by AdvanceHE by the end of 2022.