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Universities are developing more effective ways to engage with society. To recognise these achievements the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement have launched the Engage Watermark – a charter mark for universities that assesses their support for public engagement across all aspects of their work.

The University of Birmingham has just successfully completed the assessment process and has been awarded a Silver Watermark. Following a rigorous assessment involving staff from across in the institution, and partner organisations working with them, the award recognises the strategic support for public engagement across the organisation, as well as the plans to develop this work in the future.

Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Birmingham said:

“Innovation and engagement are at the heart of everything we do in Birmingham. We are committed to engaging with a wide variety of publics to improve the design and delivery of research and learning, exciting people about knowledge and discovery, and ensuring that our work makes an impact. We are enormously proud to have been awarded a Silver Engage Watermark and see it as a great opportunity to further develop our commitment and excellence in public engagement.”

Winning a silver Engage Watermark is a significant achievement. It demonstrates that the institution has made significant progress in addressing its level of support for public engagement. The institution is using evidence and intelligence to focus its efforts and future plans, and has an action plan in place, and appropriate resources allocated, to build on the momentum and address any areas of weakness. Clear success measures have been identified and there is a high level of institutional commitment to further improvements.

Paul Manners, Director of the NCCPE said ‘”Since the early days of the NCCPE we have been championing a culture in higher education where public engagement can thrive.  The Engage Watermark offers a benchmarking opportunity for institutions to evidence their commitment and achievements – combined with intelligence gathering to inform their future planning. We are delighted to be able to award the University of Birmingham a Silver Engage Watermark. 

Public engagement is supported really well at the university. There is strong commitment from senior leaders; flourishing activity in a range of schools and settings; the central team work with strategic purpose and intent; and support for engagement is increasingly being built into the university’s systems and processes.  As one of your senior leaders told us, ‘the time for engagement has come’ – and we look forward to following their progress in the year’s ahead”.

About the award winning institution

We are proud of our origins in the city of Birmingham. Today, our research, graduates, staff and partnerships all contribute towards the health of the city and the region’s business, communities and citizens.

The University contributes to the city and region in a number of ways. From our Community Day to the research-based relationships with local businesses, we continue to deliver Joseph Chamberlain’s vision of a university committed to improving the future of the city.

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) is internationally recognised for its work supporting and inspiring universities to engage with the public. It works to change perspectives, promote innovation, and nurture and celebrate excellence. It also champions meaningful engagement that makes a real and measurable difference to people’s lives.

The NCCPE is supported by UK Research and Innovation, the devolved Higher Education funding bodies, and Wellcome, and has been hosted by the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol since it was established in 2008.

Public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.

It has become increasingly important for universities to develop their support for public engagement. The research impact agenda (from Pathways to impact to the Research Excellence Framework (REF)) is encouraging researchers to consider how to ensure their research makes a difference to society; the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is encouraging an approach to teaching that gives students opportunities to engage with communities outside the university and apply their learning to ‘real world’ settings;  and it is increasingly recognised that universities have a significant role to play in their local, national and global communities to stimulate learning and innovation.

Over the last 8 years there has been significant investment in culture change initiatives in the UK – in recognition of the fact that Public Engagement is often a lower priority in institutions than it merits: where (for instance) the pressure to publish for fellow researchers dominates staff time and attention.  The Beacons for Public Engagement were followed by the Catalysts, and then the Catalyst Seed Fund programme – projects dedicated to developing a culture to support public engagement. These interventions have provided rich learning about how to cultivate effective engagement; what high quality engagement can look like; and the key challenges that need to be addressed. The NCCPE developed an EDGE tool – a self-assessment matrix that highlights the key factors that need to be addressed if you want to be an engaged institution, and it is this framework that has formed the basis of the Engage Watermark.

Acting in a similar way to a charter mark, the Engage Watermark is an award granted to institutions to recognise their strategic support for public engagement and their commitment to improve the support offered. Just as a watermark runs through the fabric of a document, an Engage Watermark indicates that engagement runs through the fabric of the institution.

Institutions applying for the Engage Watermark receive a synthesis of key data relating to their institution, enabling them to recognise core strengths as well as highlight areas for development. This intelligence gathering provides a rich source of data to the institution to strengthen the institution’s support for impactful public engagement.

The process involves four stages:

  1. Application form – providing documentary evidence of current engagement support
  2. Survey of staff, students and partners
  3. Site visit, involving interviews and focus groups with key staff and stakeholders
  4. Action planning – following an report on current support the institution develops an action plan for the future, which forms part of the assessment process

There are four levels of award

Bronze award: the institution’s support for public engagement is currently in its early stages, but there is clear commitment to enhance and develop it and a clear understanding of the institution’s current strengths and weaknesses in this area. 

Silver award: the institution has made progress in addressing its level of support for public engagement.  The institution is using evidence and intelligence to focus its efforts and future plans.   There is an action plan in place, and appropriate resources allocated, to address the areas of weakness and to accelerate momentum in other areas.  Clear success measures have been identified and there is a high level of institutional commitment to further improvements.

Gold award: the institution is a beacon of excellence in the support it offers to public engagement.  It has invested significant resources over a period of time to build substantial momentum. It is ambitious to build on its success, and to address residual areas where development has been identified as necessary.  It has an action plan in place which sets ambitious targets with clear measures of success, and it has a strong commitment to sharing its expertise with other HEIs.

Platinum award: Institutions with a Gold award can, after 3 years, apply for a platinum award – evidencing a sustained commitment to public engagement.

The institution has been operating at gold award standard for 3 years, and is maintaining its commitment to engagement. Seen to be leaders in the field, the institution is advancing the practice of engagement, its evaluation and impact, and challenges and inspires other institutions to value engagement as a critical part of their work.

  1. Regional media enquiries contact: For more information please contact Dominic Benson, Deputy Director of Communications, University of Birmingham Press Office, Tel: 0121 414 5134.
  2. National media enquiries contact: Paul Manners or Sophie Duncan, Tel: 0117 328 7190