The rise of the Engaged University and two-way communication of science (Incorporating public engagement into research, knowledge exchange, teaching and social responsibility)

Arwin Nimis - The Netherlands

Arwin Nimis, (1971, MSc, Public Administration, University of Twente) is Chairman of the Executive Board of the Drenthe College, vocational education and training (VET), which prepares trainees for jobs related to a specific trade, occupation or vocation. Drenthe College has 8000 students and is linked intensively to the regional economy. It has a broad range of high quality programmes. Until 2020 Nimis was Dean/director of the School of Health Care Studies, Hanze University of Applied Sciences with 3000 students and 40 researchers in the field of the strategic theme 'Healthy Ageing'. All bachelorprogrammes are 'best programme' (top-opleiding) or 'number one' in external ratings (Elsevier, NSE, Studiegids). Until 2012 Nimis was of Director Marketing & Communication within Hanze University. At that time responsible for the successful development and implementation of the branding-strategy of Hanze (as part of the organisation-wide strategy-plan) which led to the pay-off 'Share your Talent. Move the World'.  Responsible for enrolment management, public affairs, communication and (inter)national marketing. In 2019 Nimis was asked to return temporarily as Director Marketing & Communication and started to work on the new strategy and communication and introduced the Engaged University as leading vision.

After his graduation in 1995 he worked as a consultant in public health. Thereafter he returned to the University of Twente and worked in different positions (secretary to the board, deputy director of the Policy Department, etc). From 2001 to 2006 he was Director of Marketing & Communication at the University of Twente. At that time this research university was further branded as the Entrepreneurial University.

Session introduction

In this workshop we will explore what the concept of Engaged University means and what an engaged university looks like. We will look into some case studies how society, students, patients, professors and/or entrepreneurs are involved in research & innovation activities. An objective of the workshop is to find out that science communication is much more then the communication professional who ‘translates’ the data of the scientist in a one-way and for the public understandable press-release.

Session in-depth

Universities developed in the old days as quiet and sacred places of knowledge and research in their ivory tower. Von Humboldt developed the concept of academic freedom and bildung, still far away from society. Last twenty years the cost of the university or return on investment of universities has been leading in the debate of the added value of the university for society. Key performance indicators, rankings, professors as managers and students as consumers are the base of the distrustful relation of the university with the government and the public. Eagleton (2015) describes this in an article with the meaningful title ‘the slow death of the University’.  Nowadays we often try to find the answer in ‘more communicating’ what universities are doing to legitimate the reason of existence.

But maybe an answer is not ‘more communication’, but bringing science and science communication into society by making hybrid education and research in living labs and regional ecosystems together with the public, entrepreneurs or patient. An engaged university does not treat public engagement as an ‘add on’ or fringe activity. It embeds public engagement into the way it approaches its work. Social responsibility, participation (citizen science) and  meaningful impact are key factors. For communication professionals this means that they really have to get into these projects and actively communicate (sometimes ‘real time’)  what is happening. Not only social media but technological progress in big data and artificial intelligence should be much more embraced by communication professionals in science communication.  

In the workshop we will explore the case study of the ‘Area cooperation Westerkwartier’. If time allows we will interactively do an assessment if your institution currently supports public engagement and what stage your institution is in.

On the corporate level we see that the engaged (and more progressive) universities now formulate their strategy plans from a different perspective then a few years ago. Not their own research an ambitions are the starting point anymore. Strategy plan start now with societal challenges and contribution of the university to sustainable society. Shaping society, shaping connections, shaping crossovers and shaping individuals are strategic goals. Seeking not only to connect with society but  also to make chains with other education levels like institutions for vocational education and training.

An objective of the workshop is  for the participants to get aware that taking a different view on the strategy of the university can lead to different ways of science communication. And secondly that public engagement is not an ‘add on’,  which is happening after the scientist has done his or her work.