Community Engagement: We Need To Deepen The Discourse
September 24th, 2012
Posted on September 18, 2012
by Margo Fryer
Community engagement is a hot topic in the postsecondary world in Canada. Many university and college presidents are highlighting the great work their institutions are already doing in the community and encouraging faculty to do more. At this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Governor General David Johnston talked about the importance of sharing and co-producing knowledge with the community in his keynote speech. He also hosted a working session with invited representatives from educational institutions and the community sector. A related report (PDF) recommends that, in order to realize the potential of community-campus collaborations, strategies to support a culture of collaboration and to focus on “big issues” need to be pursued.
I welcome these developments. As a result of my experiences at the University of British Columbia over the past 13 years, I am convinced that getting universities and communities working more closely together is a good idea. As the founding director of what are now two units at the University of British Columbia, I have seen the power of such collaborations. The Learning Exchange is an initiative in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that offers free computer access and training and an ESL conversation program. It also organizes informal opportunities for local residents to learn from each other and to engage with students, staff and faculty from UBC. The UBC-Community Learning Initiative works with faculty members and others to support students to do community-service learning and community-based research projects or placements in non-profit organizations, public schools and small businesses.