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UCL a Beacon for Public Engagement

Publication date: Nov 9, 2007 12:22:37 PM

A nationwide initiative to get universities more closely involved with their local communities and the wider public was launched today, and as part of the scheme UCL (University College London) has been named as one of six Beacons of Public Engagement nationwide and the only one in the capital. As a Beacon, UCL will receive £1.2m to build on its extensive existing outreach programme with schools, colleges, museums, community and other relevant groups.

Funded by the UK higher education funding councils and Research Councils UK (RCUK), and supported by the Wellcome Trust, Beacons for Public Engagement is the biggest initiative ever launched to support public engagement throughout the UK. It brings together a number of different funders with the common goal of achieving a more joined up approach to higher education institutions’ public engagement activity. A total of six Beacons are to be set up, with the others located in Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

UCL has a wide-ranging programme of public engagement activities. The outreach activity of the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptology and Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL’s Centre for Transport Studies project to involve communities in urban street design initiatives, and the UCL Mobile Space Centre, taking space research to rural regions and deprived areas, are among the dozens of initiatives to have contributed to the success of the UCL bid to become a Beacon.

“Beacon status will help us build on the work we already do, by providing real incentives and support for staff and students to undertake more effective public engagement,” said Professor Michael Worton, UCL Vice Provost (Academic and International). “We will build public engagement explicitly into our policies, develop our public spaces, provide tailored public engagement training and mentoring, and reward engagement through Beacon bursaries and fellowships.

“In addition our bid partners – the British Museum, the South Bank Centre, Birkbeck College, Cheltenham Science Festival, Arts Catalyst, and City and Islington College – provide a unique grouping of expertise, networks and contacts which give us opportunities for wide engagement with the general public, and also for focused work with small groups, including some of London’s most disadvantaged communities.

“UCL has an important role to play in developing a dialogue with the wider public about the work of universities. Our Beacon consortium will provide a unique and powerful grouping to enhance our engagement with the outside world. Accessibility is central to UCL’s mission, and in collaboration with the project’s National Co-ordinating Centre, funders, and the other Beacons we will place public engagement at the heart of our core business as a university.”

Speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK, Professor Alan Thorpe, RCUK Champion for Science in Society and Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, said, ‘Much of the work carried out by higher education institutions has a direct effect on people’s lives, so it is important that they are able to access it and have their say. The Beacons will do this by giving people the chance to get involved directly.

They will also help redefine what it means to be a university in the 21st century, making public interactions and social considerations a core part of the role of any member of staff or student in any discipline.’

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said, ‘Universities have never been more outward looking, or more aware of the wider responsibilities to engage across a range of issues. This initiative is timely as it will reinforce this increasing openness by recognising, rewarding and supporting public engagement across all higher education activities and building capacity to do so in all subjects.

‘Listening to and involving the public is of fundamental importance to the work of higher education and society. By working in partnership with the research councils through RCUK and the other major funders we are providing a more co-ordinated approach enabling the higher education sector to build on the rich diversity of activities already being undertaken. We were delighted by the initial response to this initiative which involved 87 proposals being submitted from higher education institutions.’

Clare Matterson, Director of Medicine, Society and History at The Wellcome Trust, said: “The Wellcome Trust is delighted to fund the Beacons. We have long supported public engagement across higher education - and this initiative will provide leadership and culture change within institutions to recognise and support those individuals who already do – or those who want to – engage with public audiences about their work.”

Notes to Editors

1. The Beacons are:

UCL/ Southbank Centre / British Museum and other partners

University of Newcastle / Durham University / Centre for Life

University of Manchester / Manchester Metropolitan/University of Salford and other partners

University of Edinburgh / Heriot-Watt University / Napier University / University of Highlands and Islands and other partners

University of Cardiff / University of Glamorgan / Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales / BBC Wales / Techniquest

University of East Anglia and other partners

2. For further information about UCL’s involvement in the Beacons for Public Engagement project please contact Dominique Fourniol in the UCL Media Relations office on 0207 679 9728.

3. For further information about the Beacon’s project nationally contact Julia Short in the Research Councils UK press office on 01793 444 435.