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Professionalising business and community engagement

The Chair of the CPD Steering Group, AURIL (Association for University Research and Industry Links) explains how collaborating with JISC and a wide range of stakeholders will help individuals, academics and organisations involved in BCE to develop the skills and secure broader recognition for what they do.

What do you think of when someone refers to “BCE”? ‘Business Continuity employers’ perhaps or some kind of quango?

While there are not any big prizes, the right answer is “Business and Community Engagement”. It is a term that HEFCE, JISC and the FE sector use to describe individuals in universities, PSREs (public sector research establishments) and FE Colleges involved in activities such as knowledge transfer/exchange, public engagement, employer engagement and lifelong learning.

AURIL has always encouraged its members to develop their professional skills and to keep them up to date. AURIL was so keen on this, that in 2001 it developed and published a competency-based framework (AURIL CPD framework) to support them. The framework was developed produced in close consultation with a wide range of users and stakeholders. Although AURIL has updated the framework several times since then, AURIL recognised that the KT landscape has evolved and that we needed to revamp the framework and explore wider uses for it. So a working group comprising experienced CPD specialists and the leading professional organisations involved in BCE was set up.

AURIL was not alone in how it was thinking about the Framework. JISC had funded a project to support CPD and training provision for BCE practitioners, using the AURIL CPD framework. The project created a pilot ‘training support package’, with an online skills self-evaluation mapped to a catalogue of training and development opportunities, and set of online resources to support this.

So when JISC heard about AURIL’s plans, we decided that two heads were better than one and to pool our resources in a joint project to create a usable and relevant professional development framework for BCE to strengthen CPD support to BCE practitioners. This includes improving the online tool for skills self-evaluation for them, and supporting organisations in developing their BCE staff by creating a set of resources to support institutional embedding of the Framework and online tool.

The project involves most BCE stakeholders and brings together a wide range of different organisations. They are either members of the Working Group, responsible for the “doing” part of the project, led by JISC and AURIL, or sit on the wider Advisory Group. Working Group members include representatives from universities, the third sector, Vitae, LES, PSREs, Universities Association of Lifelong Learning, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement and the New Engineering Foundation (NEF).

We have spent the first year of the project on consulting with wide range of BCE practitioners, gathering information on the skills required for a range of roles across BCE, looking at other possible approaches to a framework and looking at what other organisations and networks have done in this area. This has involved us in discussing ideas with a wide range of organisations including ARMA and the Higher Education Academy who sit on the Advisory Group. The results of our national survey highlight the need for practitioners involved in BCE to reshape our knowledge, skills and expertise to enable them to be successful.

We plan to launch a new draft framework at the AURIL Conference in London on 6/7 October, followed by a period of testing and consultation at various workshops and conferences we are invited to, and events that we will organise. Then we will work on how we can embed the framework in organisations, working in close consultation with HR and other professional bodies.

We believe that this project is unique in bringing so many interested organisations together; and is proving to be a fruitful and effective collaboration. The new framework will enable BCE practitioners and their organisations to assess their knowledge and skills, and evaluate which areas they need to strengthen. The framework will also strengthen BCE as an emerging profession with a range of tools that will enable organisations to support and recognise their BCE staff.