ENGAGEMENT, THE THIRD CORE FUNCTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION: NELSON MANDELA METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY (NMMU) - A CASE STUDY IN CREATING AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION ENGAGEMENT AT A COMPREHENSIVE UNIVERSITY IN SOUTH AFRICA
B. Du Plooy
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (SOUTH AFRICA)
The focus in higher education is often placed, near-exclusively, on research and teaching agendas, yet Engagement has globally been recognised and accepted as the third core function of higher education. It is also recognised that Engagement is critically integrated and deeply imbedded in both Research and Teaching and that these three functions are imbricated in a social responsibility agenda which recognises the significance of higher education institutions as resources for the community. Reciprocal relationships between higher education institutions and their communities are emphasised in Engagement rhetoric and praxis, as are the values and practices of mutuality, respect, bi-directional interaction and cooperation for sustainability, both global and local. At NMMU the Centre for Academic Engagement and Collaboration (CAEC) drives Engagement as an institutional and strategic priority. Since the beginning of 2014 NMMU, through the newly created portfolio of the Manager: Engagement Information and Development (EID), has been creating processes and avenues for the consolidation of institution-wide engagement efforts, in the broadest sense of the word. The aims are to encourage and increase engagement activities at NMMU (a comprehensive university, one of only three in South Africa, that bridges the divide between traditional vocational and academic approaches to higher education), but also to begin to track the engagement footprint of the institution locally, nationally and internationally. As part of this effort emphasis is placed on the integration of the institution’s stated three core functions and the development of a Scholarship of Engagement at NMMU. This presentation will be of a practical and analytical nature, highlighting the ways in which the above processes have been introduced during the course of 2013/4 and how globally-recognised challenges to engagement (such as funding, recognition, silo-thinking and cross-faculty co-operation) are incrementally being addressed at NMMU. This paper lends a specific institutional perspective to the debate of humanising pedagogies (amid the increasing challenges created by neo-liberal managerial and materialist culture in higher education) in its focus on creating an enabling environment and supportive institutional structures as a contributing gateway to the forging of responsible relationships between the university and its communities.