Great event held at our Exhibition and Conference Centre today – HEI Community Engagement: Partnership and Collaboration in a changing environment, led by FACE, UALL, AoA and NIACE. I spoke about what partnership means to us at UWE Bristol, how critical it is to the delivery of our strategy 2020, and how far partnership and engagement are embedded into the fabric and culture of our University.
As Vice-Chancellor, I am exceptionally proud of the impact our partnerships have – working to advance knowledge, inspire people and transform futures.
For example, in sponsoring, with Rolls-Royce PLC, the Cabot Learning Federation which runs 11 schools in the region with nearly 6,000 students; our Community Action and Knowledge Exchange schemes which place students in community settings; the UWE Bristol Futures Award which enables students to have their volunteering and extra-curricular activities formally recognised; working with Bristol Health Partners to engage the public and patients in helping to rethink and reshape the way in which the health service is delivered; and engaging the public in debates and co-identifying research questions associated with advances in robotics and autonomous systems.
But of course none of this means Community and Public Engagement is without its challenges. We are all too familiar with the challenges of cuts in public funding, which are placing expectations on the third sector to take on more of the delivery of public services. What is the role of universities in that context? How do we decide on which partnerships we should develop, when there are so many calls on our time and resources? How do we prioritise? Partnerships are dynamic and ever changing but they also need time to develop, and for the trust to build. How do we best enable our staff to find that time in their busy workloads? How do we manage expectations on what is possible and what is not?
Our people are our greatest asset; at UWE Bristol we have over 30,000 students and 3,500 staff – we are immensely proud of the impact we are having on the city region’s economic and cultural development but can we do more? Do we need to rethink the way in which we work with our partners to maximise our positive impact on the world around us?
There are no easy answers and these are questions we and our partners must continually address. We know what best practice can look like. We know what can be achieved and the transformational impact that we can have. The question is are we as a sector, and UWE Bristol within it, being smart enough in how we develop and deliver? It is clear we all still have much to learn. But we do know that if are to create sustainable and institutionally embedded partnerships, it is essential that we are authentic and true to the purpose and values of our own institution.
I very much welcomed the challenge laid down by Paul Manners – who I know will continue to challenge us to do better.