University Engagement with Socially Excluded Communities

Towards the Idea of ‘The Engaged University’
  • Paul BenneworthEmail author


There appears to be an almost overwhelming consensus that an increasingly important element of the role of universities in contemporary society is to provide useful knowledge and contribute to emerging societal problems. However, the scale of the academic analysis to date has been surprising in its limitations, focusing individual universities rather than universities as institutions within social systems. This results in slippery rhetorics where universities promote their activities rather than focusing on delivering socially useful knowledge. This chapter explores how universities as societal institutions evolve in parallel with broad transformation in society. The chapter argues that these transformations are placing increasing pressures on universities to engage with society and to seek external validation of the wider benefits of that engagement. To make sense of how these transformations have impacted on the way how universities deliver their societal mission, we focus on one particular form of engagement, with socially excluded communities. The second part of this chapter focuses on excluded communities, and in particular seeks to understand them in their own terms, as communities with agency and interests rather than purely as potential beneficiaries of services which universities may provide. The chapter argues that there is a need to understand higher education societal engagement in terms of the inter-relation of various systemic elements, including the formal engagement activities, the academic communities, the epistemic communities and the policy environment. Moreover, policy should place more focus on understanding and managing higher education as a system rather than as competing elements, and seek to guide that system towards a successful wider transformation.


Social Exclusion Community Engagement Knowledge Society Grand Challenge Epistemic Community 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This chapter draws on within the Economic and Social Research Council funded project ‘Universities and excluded communities’, part of the Regional Impacts of Higher Education Initiative. This Initiative is co-funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Education and Learning Northern Ireland. Many thanks also to Themis Chronopoulos for a fascinating correspondence pointing me towards the urban justice and politics literature related to Columbia University.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Higher Education Policy StudiesUniversity of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands

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