Change the world

Dr Belinda du Plooy


Engagement is the process of transferring, applying and shaping the university's knowledge and resources with those of the broader community (both internal and external) to

  • enrich scholarship, research and creative activity
  • enhance teaching and learning
  • strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility
  • contribute to public good and transformation
  • and to enhance social, economic and ecological sustainability.

The definition provided above distinguishes four elements that are common to engagement at Nelson Mandela University:

1. It should be informed by scholarly activity. An academic/scholarship based model of engagement involves both the act of engaging (bringing the university and community together as partners) and the product of engagement (the spread of disciplines generated, evidence-based practices and communities).

2. It should be integrated and embedded into the core functions of the university.

3. It is reciprocal and mutually beneficial. It involves a two-way flow of knowledge and there is a high potential for joint learning.

4. There is mutual planning, implementation and assessment among partners which includes external stakeholders, students and university staff.

Engagement: The Third Core Function of Higher Education

Nelson Mandela University's definition of Engagement is as follows:

“Engagement is a reciprocal process of mutual sharing of knowledge, skills and resources between Nelson Mandela University and the broader community to enrich scholarship, research;  enhance teaching and learning and creative activity; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; contribute to public good and transformation and to enhance social, economic and ecological sustainability”

Vision 2020, Strategic Priority 4 is as follows:

“To position Nelson Mandela University as an engaged institution that contributes to a sustainable future through critical scholarship”:

“By 2020, Nelson Mandela University is widely recognised for its responsiveness to societal needs through collaborative and mutually beneficial partnerships at local, regional, national and international levels.

Scholarship is invigorated and enhanced through engagement activities that enable learning beyond the classroom walls.

Engagement is integrated into the core activities of the institution and cuts across the mission of teaching, research and service in a manner that develops responsible and compassionate citizens; strengthens democratic values and contributes to the public good; and enhances social, economic and ecological sustainability”

Nelson Mandela University's Engagement Conceptual Framework and Typology

The Nelson Mandela University Engagement activities and projects fall within four broad categories:

Engagement through Community Interaction, Service and Outreach

Engagement through Professional/Discipline-based Service Provision

Engagement through Teaching and Learning

Engagement through Research and Scholarship

The engagement activities of academics fall along a continuum and they often straddle categories. The engagement activities falling within the four categories are often interdependent and integrated.

The Scholarship of Engagement

This is a term that captures scholarship in the areas of service provision, teaching and learning and research.

It involves academics in mutually beneficial partnerships with communities and has the following characteristics: clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, significant results, effective presentation, reflective critique, rigour and peer review.

It engages academics in academically relevant work that simultaneously meets university mission and goals and the needs of the external communities.

In essence, it is a scholarly agenda that integrates community issues into disciplinary work of academics.

It can be transdisciplinary and often integrates some combination of multiple forms of scholarship.

Engaged scholarship...

Breaks new ground and has a direct application to broader public issues;
Answers significant questions in the discipline which have relevance to public and external communities;
Is reviewed and validated by qualified peers in the discipline and members of the community;
Is based on a solid theoretical basis and practical basis;
Applies appropriate investigative methods;
Is disseminated to appropriate audiences;
Makes significant advances in knowledge and understanding of the discipline and public/community issues; and
Applies the knowledge to address and provide solutions to community issues.

Common misconceptions about the scholarship of engagement:

That engaged scholarship is just another term for ‘applied research’;

That the standards for engaged scholarship are less rigorous than the standards for traditional scholarship;

That engaged scholarship is for social scientists;

That all community engaged-work can be scholarly.

Developing an Engagement Portfolio (for Recognition, Reward and Promotion)))    

The engagement portfolio should demonstrate:

• Clear academic and community change goals
• Adequate preparation in content area and grounding  or in response to a specific community’s needs.
• Appropriate methods: Rigour AND Engagement with a community/external stakeholder.
• Significant results: Impact on discipline and a specific community
• Effective presentation/dissemination to academic and external community audiences.
• Reflective critique: Lessons learnt to improve the scholarship and engagement with communities
• Leadership and personal contribution
• Consistently ethical behaviour: Socially responsible in conducting of research and teaching.