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Manchester Beacon will use engagement to build bridges with local communities

09 Nov 2007

People from Manchester and Salford will be given the chance to become more actively involved in the important work of local universities, thanks to a new £9.2 million national initiative called Beacons for Public Engagement.

Funded by the UK higher education funding councils and Research Councils UK (RCUK), and supported by the Wellcome Trust, it is the biggest initiative ever launched to support public engagement throughout the UK. It brings together a number of different funders with the common goal of achieving a more joined up and embedded approach to public engagement.

A total of six beacons are to be set up in Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. There will also be a UK-wide co-ordinating centre based in Bristol, which will work across the initiative to promote best practice and provide a single point of contact for the whole higher education sector. 

The Manchester and Salford centre is a collaboration between The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, The University of Salford, the Museum of Science and Industry and Manchester : Knowledge Capital (M:KC).

The Manchester Beacon will be at the forefront of efforts to bring about a substantial change in the culture of academic institutions, encouraging and assisting staff and students to enthusiastically reach out, listen to and engage with the public.

The beacon will facilitate more researchers and academics to engage with the public, and will recognise, reward and support those individuals and departments who make the effort to break down old perceptions of universities being elitist ivory towers.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, Vice-President for Research at The University of Manchester, said: "Some excellent public engagement work already goes on at our local universities but this new initiative will allow us to integrate ourselves into local communities and discover what people really want to know about our work.

"We want to closely involve the public in our work and give those with no or little previous engagement with universities a chance to find out more and closely interact with our academics.

"This is a chance for us to learn from people across the Manchester area, to build bridges, make universities integral to the wider community and seek opportunities to make an impact through engagement."

Speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK (RCUK), Professor Alan Thorpe, RCUK Chief Executive Champion for Science in Society and CEO for NERC, said: "Much of the work carried out by higher education institutions has a direct effect on people's lives, so it is important that they are able to access it and have their say. The beacons will do this by giving people the chance to get involved directly. They will also help redefine what it means to be a university in the 21st century, making public interactions and social considerations a core part of the role of any member of staff or student in any discipline."

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: "This initiative addresses the perception that universities are dominated by a research-driven culture giving academics little time to engage with the public. The beacons will help to change that perception by recognising, rewarding and supporting public engagement across all higher education activities and building capacity to do so in all subjects.

"Listening to and involving the public is of fundamental importance to the work of higher education and society. By working in partnership with the research councils through RCUK and the other major funders we are providing a more co-ordinated approach enabling the sector to build on the rich diversity of activities already being undertaken. We were delighted by the initial response to this initiative which involved 87 proposals being submitted from higher education institutions."

Clare Matterson, Director of Medicine, Society and History at The Wellcome Trust, commented: "The Wellcome Trust is delighted to fund the beacons. We have long supported public engagement across higher education - and this initiative will provide leadership and culture change within institutions to recognise and support those individuals who already do - or those who want to - engage with public audiences about their work."

Contacts

The University of Manchester Press Office
0161 275 8258

Research Councils UK
Julia Short
Julia.short@rcuk.ac.uk
Tel: 01793 444 435
Mobile: 07917557215


RCUK Science in Society Unit
Gillian Rendle
Tel: 01793 442817

HEFCE
Roger Grinyer
Tel: 0117 931 7307

HEFCW
Emma Raczka
Tel: 029 2068 2225

SFC
Judith Henderson
Tel: 0131 313 6631

Wellcome Trust
Katrina Nevin-Ridley
Tel: 020 7611 8540

Notes to Editors
The National Co-ordinating Centre is made up of the University of Bristol, University of the West of England and other partners.

The National Co-ordinating Centre will build networks across the other Beacons and provide a single point of contact as well as an overview of their activities.

It will also work strategically with key national partners who are also interested in understanding and listening to audiences better and generating knowledge with them.

These organisations, including the BBC, the Museums, Libraries and Archives, and the volunteering organisation v, will help to professionalise how Higher Education engages with the public.

The beacons are:

" University of Newcastle / Durham University / Centre for Life

" University of Manchester / Manchester Metropolitan/University of Salford and other partners

" University of Edinburgh / Heriot-Watt University / Napier University / University of Highlands and Islands and other partners

" University of Cardiff / University of Glamorgan / Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales / BBC Wales / Techniquest

" University College London / Southbank Centre / British Museum and other partners

" University of East Anglia and other partners

 

The recent report on attitude to public engagement is:

'Survey of factors affecting science communication by scientists and engineers', Royal Society, RCUK and Wellcome Trust, June 2006, available at http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=3180

About Research Councils UK

The seven Research Councils are independent non-departmental public bodies, funded by the Science Budget through the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). They are incorporated by Royal Charter and together manage a research budget of over £2.8 billion a year.

Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the partnership between the UK's seven Research Councils. Through RCUK, the Research Councils work together to champion the research, training and innovation they support.

The seven UK Research Councils are:

" Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC);
" Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC);
" Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC);
" Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC);
" Medical Research Council (MRC);
" Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
" Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

About HEFCE

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is responsible for distributing around £7.1 billion a year in public funds to universities and colleges, to support high quality education, research and related activities. HEFCE also has a leading role in developing and implementing policy for higher education, based on research and consultation.

About HEFCW

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) is an Assembly Sponsored Public Body responsible for funding higher education in Wales.
HEFCW administers funds made available by the Welsh Assembly Government in support of the provision of education, the undertaking of research by higher education institutions, and the provision of prescribed courses of higher education at further education institutions. HEFCW is also responsible for accrediting providers of initial teaching training for school teachers and commissioning research to improve the standards of teachers and teacher training.
In addition to its funding responsibilities, the HEFCW provides advice to the Welsh Assembly Government on the funding needs, aspirations and concerns of the higher education sector in Wales.

About SFC

The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (SFC) is a non-departmental public body responsible to — but operating at arm's length from — the Scottish Executive. It distributes more than £1.5 billion of public funds annually to colleges and universities on behalf of the Scottish Executive for teaching and learning, research and other activities in Scotland's colleges and universities. Established in 2005, the Council provides a strategic overview of tertiary education in Scotland to help secure a more coherent system of high-quality learning, teaching and research.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is the most diverse biomedical research charity in the world, spending about £450 million every year both in the UK and internationally to support and promote research that will improve the health of humans and animals. The Trust was established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome, and is funded from a private endowment, which is managed with long-term stability and growth in mind.