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New Welsh Beacon brings universities and public closer

10 November 2007

Cardiff University, University of Glamorgan, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Techniquest and BBC Wales have come together to become Wales’ only Beacon for Public Engagement.

Successfully bidding against 87 other bidders from around the UK, the Beacon for Wales will now lead Welsh universities in making wider contributions to society through engaging communities more fully in their work.

Part of the biggest initiative of its kind ever launched in the UK, a total of six beacons will be set up, including others led by institutions based in Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, London, and Edinburgh and a UK-wide co-ordinating centre in Bristol.

The Beacon for Wales will share in £9.2M of Beacons for Public Engagement funding from the UK Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and Research Councils UK in association with the Wellcome Trust.

The four-year funding will aim to achieve a more joined up and embedded approach to public engagement and respond to findings from a survey that identified barriers to participation in public engagement by higher education institutions such as pressures to publish research.

The University, along with its partners, will act as a catalyst for other Welsh higher education institutions and the Beacon for Wales will open up opportunities for people outside academic communities to better understand, support and challenge research undertaken in universities.

Professor Ken Woodhouse, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement, at Cardiff University, the lead partner in the Beacon for Wales, said: "This initiative will ensure that the public has a greater understanding of the work of higher education institutions, as well as making sure our universities understand how the public feels about issues ranging from science, business and the arts, to language, the environment, history and health.

"We are excited at the prospect of working with our partners to spread ambition and best practice that will inspire academic and research staff across the whole of Wales. We are keen to see public engagement activities such as debates, dialogues or exhibitions, media appearances or outreach work become as much of a priority for university staff as the more the traditional roles. This is why one of our earliest tasks is to put in place the right structure to support academia in planning and delivering innovative and rewarding activities that run side by side with research and teaching."

The Beacon for Wales will take practical steps to encourage and reward innovative, exciting engagement activities that reach all groups throughout Wales. It will pilot four new public engagement programmes and develop best practice guidance on how to reach audiences with activities that encourage social, ethical and scientific debate. The four pilot projects will explore subjects as varied as: our place in the future; health and well being; climate and sustainability and the Welsh identity in the 21st century.

Our partners’ comments on being part of the Beacon for Wales:

Ceri Black, Head of Learning Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

"We are looking forward to working with Cardiff University, the University of Glamorgan, Techniquest and BBC Wales on this exciting initiative, which will build on and develop our skills in communicating with a wide variety of audiences and groups and firmly establish Wales as a leader in the field of public engagement."

Cathryn Allen, Head of Broadcast Development, BBC Wales

"BBC Wales is always seeking new ways to enrich its engagement with its audience and the Beacon for Wales offers an exciting opportunity to work with partners in order to innovate within this area."

Peter Trevitt, Chief Executive, Techniquest

"Techniquest is delighted to be part of the Beacon for Wales and is looking forward to beginning work with the partnership. As an educational charity with a mission to engage people in science, the Beacon provides a welcome framework to strengthen dialogue between the public, scientists and the academic community, especially in important areas such a climate change and medical sciences."

Professor Philip Gummett, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales

"Backing this initiative with other UK partners has given us a wonderful opportunity to support institutions in Wales to build on their existing excellent work to make what they do more understandable to the public in Wales, as well as get a real dialogue going. The diversity of the partners within the Beacon for Wales means they will be able to collectively work with and learn from communities all across our nation."

Professor Rod Dubrow-Marshall, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Glamorgan

"Our Beacon is about engaging with, listening to and learning from the communities with whom we live and work and we are ready to put our plans into action. By combining the expertise, experience and geographical reach of these leading Welsh institutions, the Beacon for Wales will give public engagement a renewed sense of status, a renewed sense of purpose and a renewed energy, not only within our institutions but throughout Wales."

About the Beacon for Wales

The Beacon for Wales will pioneer new techniques in public engagement across Wales, and then share that experience across the UK Beacon network.

The partners will establish a Wales Higher Education Engagement Network (WHEEN) to provide opportunities for HE staff and students to network and share ideas on public engagement; appoint a high-level champion for public engagement, working with senior staff and university management to negotiate any necessary changes in policies and employment practices; establish an awards system recognising engagement excellence in a variety of sectors; and pilot four projects to test approaches to new audiences and new techniques.

About the Beacon for Public Engagement

The Beacons for Public Engagement initiative will recognise, reward and build capacity for increased communication between academics and researchers and the wider community not currently engaged with universities through research, teaching and knowledge-transfer. It was created in response to a survey by the Royal Society, RCUK and the Wellcome Trust that identified barriers to participation in public engagement by higher education institutions, ranging from the pressure to publish research papers and attract funding, to parity of esteem between research and engagement activities.

The six Beacons are collaborative centres made up of a number of higher education institutions (HEIs) and partnership organisations. They will be at the forefront of efforts to change the culture in universities, assisting staff and students to engage with the public. They involve networks of partners including further education colleges, museums, galleries, business, charities, TV and press, and public bodies.

The National Co-ordinating Centre is made up of the University of Bristol, University of the West of England and other partners. The other five 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 College London / Southbank Centre / British Museum and other partners; University of East Anglia and other partners.

Photograph - (Left to right) Mike Tooby, Director of Learning and Programmes, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales; (back) Karen Lewis, Partnerships Manager, BBC Wales; (front) Dr Rachel Iredale, Senior Research Associate, University of Glamorgan; Prof Ken Woodhouse, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Engagement, Cardiff University; Peter Trevitt, Chief Executive, Techniquest.