The growing global call for community-engaged campuses

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The responsibility to work with and make a positive difference in communities has been a growing priority for higher education institutions in BC and around the world (Hart & Northmore, 2011, p. 1; Singh, 2017, p. 2; CFICE Community Impact Symposium, 2017, p. 1; Dubb, McKinley & Howard, 2013, p. VII). 

The growth of community-university engagement and partnership has strengthened, thanks to the global recognition of the significant intellectual, human, financial and relational resources that post-secondary institutions can bring to address urgent issues in our society.


For universities to effectively tackle issues like climate change, poverty, income inequality, food and water scarcity, systemic discrimination and intolerance requires a fundamental shift in how we think about our role in society (Strandberg, 2017).


Representatives of the Canadian Pilot Cohort of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, February 2019.

Universities must embrace a “transformative model of higher education” (Petter, 2017), which encourages us to consider how our practices for educating students and producing knowledge can integrate with community and civic processes to develop co-created knowledge, shared purpose and responsive practice.

A transformative model of higher education is foundational and ambitious. It requires the development of strong and interconnected social infrastructure (Strandberg, 2017) through an approach to working with students, faculty, staff, volunteers and communities as mutual partners, collaborators, co-creators and practitioners of knowledge.

The benefits of undertaking this work extend to gains in teaching, learning and research. Working with communities for the purpose of positive social change allows for a deeper and more enriched experience for students, faculty, staff and the institution as a whole.


Global networks are emerging.

Numerous networks have emerged, regionally, nationally and globally, with the intention to connect, support and grow community-university engagement at post-secondary institutions across cultural and geographic boundaries. Post-secondary institutions across the globe are innovating, planning and deploying core capacities towards important community-engaged work. They are developing social infrastructure to address complex challenges. They are opening access to scholarly work, facilitating knowledge mobilization activities and placing greater value on diverse forms of knowledge. They are supporting the emergence of university-community partnerships, engaging in co-creative projects, participating in collective impact initiatives, taking on grand challenges, and adopting anchor institution missions.

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SFU is already seen as a leader and champion.

The appetite for moving courageously into such work has always been healthy at SFU. It is evidenced today by the wide array of past and recent initiatives directed at community engagement, social innovation and impact. SFU’s eight-faculty, three-campus model represents a strong and adaptive institutional structure across which community engagement has progressed in an organic, responsive and distributed fashion. Each faculty and campus has developed connections to government, businesses, boards of trade, nonprofit, community groups, and even individual community members, and we are engaged across a diverse array of interests and issues.

We are still known as the “radical campus” even as we celebrate 53 years of academics and research. Strengthening community engagement at SFU will challenge us in ambitious and worthwhile ways, and we are all invited to consider how to meaningfully advance our impact on the world’s most pressing societal challenges through our lives, work, and emerging shared purpose at Simon Fraser University. It’s up to all of us.

Nous sommes prêts.


CFICE Community Impact Symposium. (2017, January 19). CFICE Community Impact Symposium. Carleton University. doi:10.22215/cfice-2017-01

Dubb, S., McKinley, S., & Howard, T. (2013). Achieving the Anchor Promises: Improving Outcomes for Low-Income Children, Families and Communities. The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland. Retrieved from

Hart, A., & Northmore, S. (2011). Auditing and Evaluating University–Community Engagement: Lessons from a UK Case Study. Higher Education Quarterly, 65(1), 34–58.

Petter, A. (2017). The transformative power of education - President’s Office - Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from

Singh, W. (2017). Gauging the Impact of Community University Engagement Initiatives in India. ASEAN Journal of Community Engagement, 1(1), 1–16.

Strandberg, C. (2017). Maximizing the Capacities of Advanced Education Institutions to Build Social Infrastructure for Canadian Communities.Retrieved from