What is Post-Secondary Education For? To Build a Better World, says C2UExpo 2015

By Ted Jackson and Geri Briggs

What are universities and colleges for?

At the end of this month, hundreds of professors, non-profit leaders, policy-makers and students will gather at Carleton University to exchange their answers to this question.

They will be participating in the 2015 Community, College and University Exposition, or C2UExpo 2015, a biannual meeting of the leaders of community-campus partnerships from across Canada, the United States and a dozen other countries.

Like any conference, there will be questions and debates.  But the delegates will bring to C2UExpo 2015 deep convictions, and impressive evidence, that a central purpose of post-secondary education is to solve the wicked problems facing communities—from poverty and environmental degradation to gender violence—by combining the best knowledge of universities and colleges with the best ideas and actions of citizens themselves.

And the partnerships that are the most effective, the smartest, are those characterized by mutual benefit, reciprocity and transparency between academics and practitioners. These partnerships achieve even better results if they are part of a longer-term relationship between the educational institutions and community-based non-profit organizations.

Indeed, exploring the nature of high-impact community-campus research and learning has been the focus of a major Carleton-based initiative known as the CFICE Project, which involves faculty and students in Political Science, Social Work, Law, Public Policy, and Geography and Environmental Studies, working in co-operation with such non-profits as Food Secure Canada on food security, the Vibrant Communities network on reducing poverty, the Trent Centre for Community-Based Research on promoting community environmental sustainability, and the Elizabeth Fry society on reducing violence against women.

Completing its third year of operation, and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Carleton University and other supporters, CFICE has grown to a network of 300 members working in seven provinces, and is recognized as a leading force in the community engagement field. In addition to this, the project has engaged, through workshops and webinars, another 300 to 400 non-profit managers, policy-makers, funders, faculty members and students.

In fact, other Ottawa PSE institutions are active in the community as well.  The University of Ottawa runs a large-scale community-service learning program for its students; one of its main non-profit partners is the Youth Services Bureau, for example. For its part, Algonquin College’s applied studies courses also involve students with non-profit shelters and hospitals, among many other local groups.

Both of these institutions have been active in the planning of C2UExpo 2015. The University of Ottawa is a sponsor of the gathering. And Algonquin will host a set of pre-conference skill-building workshops that will precede the conference.

The delegates to the conference will bring an impressive record of achievement themselves.  For instance, a partnership between the University of Quebec in Montreal and that city’s social-economy sector has produced a well-funded pension plan for 2,000 non-profit workers. Good pensions are key to the non-profit sector recruiting the best talent needed to respond to changing social needs in a complex world.

Across the country, at the University of Victoria, the Institute for Studies and Innovation in Community-University Engagement has been established as a one-stop shop to broaden and deepen the university’s previous partnered research and education on issues such as homelessness and youth alienation with the United Way of Victoria and other local non-profits, and, with First Nations on Vancouver Island, to advance the revitalization of Aboriginal languages and culture and mapping environmental eco-systems on traditional lands.

There is growing interest on the part of governments and foundations in community-campus engagement. The conference will hear about the Government of India’s recent decision to allocate $100 million to fund community engagement centres in universities across that country.  Closer to home, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Office of Public Engagement will present its approach and experiences at C2UExpo 2015.

Moreover, a number of philanthropic organizations—notably, the Metcalf, Muttart and Lawson foundations—are sponsoring the conference, indicating their strong interest.  SSHRC is a sponsor as well.  And several of its senior staff will make presentations at C2UExpo 2015 on the council’s work, including its support of research partnerships on Aboriginal communities and on immigrants and the labour market.

C2UExpo 2015 promises to be a stimulating event. It will also be an important milestone in the journey to shape post-secondary institutions that serve the interests of the communities in which they are located. All members of the Carleton University community are welcome to participate.  For more information, visit the conference website:  www.cuexpo2015.ca.

Ted Jackson is Senior Research Fellow at the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation at Carleton University and Convenor of C2UExpo 2015.  Geri Briggs is Director of the Canadian Alliance for Community Service Learning and a Co-Lead on the CFICE Project.  

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