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Four Ingredients for Cultivating Vibrant Campus-Community Connections

  • Elizabeth Martin
| Apr 06, 2017
Elizabeth Martin Elizabeth Martin
Research Associate
Education and Strategic Initiatives

It can be challenging for post-secondary education (PSE) institutions and the municipalities they operate in to connect with one another. Complex historical, socio-political, and geographic divisions can be difficult to overcome.

Communities and PSE institutions have long recognized the value of bridging this divide. Faculty engage in community-based research, institutions commit to community-engaged and applied learning, and formal town-and-gown networks exist to resolve campus-community conflicts.

Some PSE institutions collaborate with other institutions and organizations to promote shared values and achieve significant social and cultural change, such as lifelong learning, environmental stewardship, economic development, healthy living, and civic participation. Managing complex, long-term relationships requires a conducive climate and committed partners. Examples of successful PSE-community collaboration tend to have the following on their side:

  • Supportive public policy. Public policy can foster collaboration between PSE institutions, industry, municipalities, and community-based organizations. Provincial post-secondary education policies, such as Campus Alberta, have stimulated inter-institutional cooperation that has helped PSE institutions align themselves on local and regional goals. Federal, provincial, and municipal policies related to economic development, innovation, education, and training, as well as culture and heritage, can stimulate multi-sector partnerships.
  • Willing and complementary partners. Participation from partners needs to be willing and voluntary. While public policy is important in creating an environment for collaboration, it can only go so far. PSE institutions and their partners need to enter into collaborations that are mutually beneficial and respectful.
  • Buy-in throughout the PSE institution. All levels of the PSE institution need to be engaged in large-scale campus-community partnerships. Successful collaborations have the buy-in of support staff, faculty, and students, and are championed by the university’s senior leaders. Senior administrators promote a philosophy of collaboration, openness, and relationship-building.
  • Clear intended outcomes. Partners are vocal about what they hope to get out of the collaboration for themselves and what they hope to achieve together. Partners agree on measures of success.

One exciting model for kick-starting—or simply recognizing—campus-community collaboration is the festival and celebration model. Examples of the celebration model in action can be seen in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Cork, Ireland. Co-presented by Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the City of Burnaby, with participation from a local K–12 public school district, the inaugural Burnaby Festival of Learning was launched in May 2016 as a week-long celebration of learning happening throughout the city. The festival featured almost 70 free events meant to reach a wide audience—including individuals and groups with little attachment to formal PSE or adult education. The Burnaby festival was initiated by the PSE partner—SFU—who reached out to the municipality and other partners with a proposal to create broader awareness of the university’s and city’s educational offerings.

Another model that is igniting connections is the inter-institutional coalition. In Edmonton, Alberta, the academic vice-presidents of the six publicly funded PSE institutions have formed an alliance where they meet regularly to address shared issues. The Coalition aspires to create more fluid educational pathways between its institutions and to elevate the city’s economic performance. It is serving as a platform for reaching out to the city, industry, and community organizations to take on projects that can impact the entire Edmonton region. For example, the Coalition responded to the influx of Syrian refugees in Edmonton and students displaced by the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, and continue to form a unified voice on major community initiatives such as Edmonton’s Health City Initiative.

These successful models illustrate how PSE institutions can launch large-scale relationships with community partners. Are you thinking about ways that your PSE institution can engage more meaningfully with community-based partners? Are you a community organization that wants to forge connections with PSE? Consider attending a webinar in our upcoming series, The City-Campus Connection: Higher Education for Community and Regional Development.

Webinars in this series include:

Contact us for information about how you can attend all three webinars in the series at a special rate!

Read our publications on this topic:

Related Event

5th Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit 2017
November 29–November 30 2017 • International Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre • Toronto, Ontario

Liz Martin is a Research Associate in the Education and Strategic Initiatives group at The Conference Board of Canada and a researcher for The Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education.

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