Recognising Public Engagement

Universities in the UK have embraced 'Public Engagement'. There is a Public Engagement Manifesto. My university (University of Aberdeen) have signed it. But who carries this 'vital' work out and are they being recognised for it?

The University of Aberdeen is committed to achieving distinctive excellence across all aspects of its activities including the vital objective of engaging with society. We are building on a considerable track record, where public engagement has become ever more embedded in our core business. Moving forward, our Strategic Plan 2011-2015 reflects our ongoing commitment to support and empower our staff and students to help deliver a diverse, creative and accessible programme of activities with a measurable public impact. Partnership is central to our strategy and our active involvement with the work of the NCCPE extends back to its inception. We therefore endorse the principles of the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research and fully support the NCCPE Manifesto.” Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of Aberdeen

This is great news. One I am pleased with as a PhD student. I want the university I am studying at to be embracing this and I want to (and do) support public engagement events. I think there is a great value in engagement and both for the university, the people at the university and for the public.
I do see one problem though. The vast amount of public engagement activities that happen are reliant on volunteers. The volunteers tend to be a small (ish) pool of people that take part in events and often the pool is of students (both undergraduate and postgraduate).  
Public Engagement is starting to be seen as something employees of the university should be doing within their 'normal work'. Some institutions are including it on their assessment and promotion criteria which is a great start at integrating it into peoples jobs (I am not sure that the University of Aberdeen have introduced this). Including it as promotion criteria makes sure that staff time is dedicated to public engagement and that people are rated, judged and recognised for the work they do.
I see plenty of support for people that want to get involved with public engagement and have an idea at the University of Aberdeen. However, I feel the recognition for people that take part in these activities; especially those that are students and on short term contracts (post doc etc) is lacking. This creates a culture where those interested in public engagement and feel strongly about it do it. But do it in their own time because they want to. There is no extra incentives other than 'building your C.V.'. As the university are placing an expectation on people to take part in these activities, should there be bigger incentives, recognition and awards or should people not taking part and not 'doing their bit'  be penalised?
UCL seems to be doing a good job at both embracing and recognising people (both staff and students) who take part in these activities through the Provost awards - However, is the introduction and use of awards such as these (although they may be great incentives to get people involved in public engagement activities) a way for the universities to get work that they deem as 'vital' done but not pay people for it?


Popular posts from this blog

How many papers should academics publish per year?

How to help someone that is writing up their thesis

Getting Women into Science, EU Directive