Civic Engagement Strategy

What is Civic Engagement?

Universities are critical to the economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing of their cities and regions. Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community. Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, Ehrlich

What is Abertay’s role in civic engagement?

Our ambition is:

  • For our Staff and Students to be embedded at the heart of our communities**.

  • To create economic, social, and cultural influence and impact.

  • To continue to lead and champion widening access, supporting students from diverse backgrounds to realise their potential.

  • To continue to engage with industry, supporting regional ambitions.

  • To support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Why is this important?

Abertay University plays a key role in Dundee and the region. In a city of c150,000 people, Abertay directly represents 3% of the population through our staff and current students. Our reach is greater if we also include the connections we have with the business community through Knowledge Exchange Partnerships, research activity, employment of our graduates and student placements or projects. Many of our alumni are parents of current students, local employers or employees.

Abertay is an anchor institution* in Dundee and has been embedded in our city and its communities** for its entire history.

We support the wider communities, through our workforce and employment capacity, and by creative use of facilities and land assets. Positive use of these aspects can affect social, economic and environmental change. 

And as an institution our impact and reach extends beyond our location, meaning our research may be international, our work may be digital and our communities may be wider than the local area. 


* The term 'anchor institution' refers to 'large employers with a strong local presence in an area. They can exert sizable influence through their commissioning and purchasing of goods and services, through their workforce and employment capacity, and by creative use of their facilities and land assets. Positive use of these aspects can affect social, economic and environmental change in an area. Anchors can be your local council, University, college, housing association, NHS health board or large local private sector employers'.

** 'Communities' in this document includes business, the third sector such as registered charities and community groups, the public sector including health boards, police, fire, schools, criminal justice, councils, the cultural sector such as museums, galleries, theatres, performing arts government and the general public.

Our Civic Engagement Strategy

Our Civic Engagement Strategy was developed in consultation with staff across the University in 2023. It sets out our current and potential role in civic engagement and provides a strategic framework and recommended actions. It is likely that this strategy and its implementation plan will develop, evolve, and be revisited and updated as required.

1. Civic Engagement in Abertay University plans

a. Strategic Plan and Research and Knowledge Exchange

Our Strategic Plan and our Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy both talk particularly about our aspirations to support Civic Engagement, for example:

Our Strategic Plan focuses on Abertay’s ability to add value to the Scottish economy. It also expresses our vision for the future and continues to build on work that will improve social, cultural and economic outcomes. It talks about our wider contribution where Abertay 'will be an active and committed partner in the ongoing cultural and economic development of Dundee and the region'.

Our Research and Knowledge Exchange strategy says:

'Staff will be encouraged to maintain close links with business/ industry/professional disciplines' and 'we will offer work-related learning opportunities on all programmes. We will give all students the opportunity not only to learn new knowledge and skills but also to apply their learning in practical situations.'

In addition, Abertay is committed to the principles of the UKRI Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research.

Public engagement enhances research so that it contributes positively to society and results in greater relevance, accountability and transparency….. We believe that engaging with the public should form part of the role of researchers in any discipline. By engaging with the public researchers can benefit from improving the quality of research and its impact, by widening research horizons or providing user perspectives; enhancing researchers’ communication and influencing skills; higher personal and institutional profiles; new partnerships. Public engagement can also help universities actively contribute to positive social change and the "public good". Prof. Alan Thorpe, OBE

b. The International Strategy

The international strategy talks about the importance that our international students have on the cultural impact of the city:

'We will contribute to the City of Dundee’s Cultural Strategy and build on our reputation as the UK’s first and only UNESCO International City of Design and creativity through increasing the number and diversity of international students living and studying in the city. By encouraging international students to study at Abertay we will celebrate and promote global citizenship for both our international and our home-based students.

Further to the recruitment of international students, we will enable and encourage our international students to engage with the wider community in Dundee and surrounding areas. We will provide opportunities for our international students to contribute to both our academic and civic communities through curricula activities, projects, volunteering and community work.

We will explore opportunities for international students to get involved with Dundee schools to share experiences from country of origin and potentially get involved in supporting language classes. The integration of international students into the city will form a component of our Civic Engagement.

We will work closely with Abertay’s Students’ Association to support and enable international students to engage with, and enhance the social, economic and cultural activities at Abertay and throughout the City of Dundee.'

c. Estates Vision

The University has an ambitious Estates Plan to redevelop our city centre campus. Subject to final approvals and the funding, there are plans to greatly improve the campus.

The Vision for our estate is in progress at the time of writing this document, with major improvements already delivered such as the  cyberQuarter development/Cladding the north exterior of the Kydd building and room upgrades.

We are seen as an anchor institution in Dundee as we embark upon an Estates masterplan to 'become more physically and visually permeable and to showcase our learning and activity to the wider community and enhance our campus experience'.

There are a number of campus development plans which would augment and change our campus as part of the vision and allow us to engage more with our communities.

2. The Context - Dundee and the Tay Cities Region

Abertay University is located in the city centre of Dundee, a small city of c.150,000 residents. Of course, our sphere of influence extends beyond Dundee, to the wider local regional area, including Angus, Perth, and Fife, where the overall 'commuting' population is estimated to be 400,000. It is important to note that our civic engagement may extend beyond the communities of Dundee and Tayside. Our engagement may be digital, national or international, and without geographic boundaries.

Dundee is the UK's first and only City of Design. This global designation as a Creative City acknowledges Dundee's rich design heritage, the thriving contemporary design sector. It is a city committed to using design to solve problems and to help make Dundee a better place to live.

Dundee is also home to the Scotland's first Design Museum, the V&A Dundee. The University is a founding partner of the V&A Dundee and supporters of Unesco City of Design and is actively involved with both organisations.

Dundee is building a reputation as a sustainable city too, supported by the Port of Dundee’s work in decommissioning oil and gas, the promised arrival of the Eden Project to the city, and the Michelin Innovation Parc supporting sustainable businesses. In 2019 the city was named the best place to live in Scotland and in 2022, as one of the best places in the UK to own an electric car due to the density of EV charging points.

The strategic priorities from the Dundee City Councils 10 Year City Plan 2022-2032 include:

  • To reduce child poverty and inequalities in incomes, education and health.
  • To deliver inclusive economic growth including community wealth building.
  • To tackle climate change and reach Net Zero emissions by 2045.

As members of the Dundee Partnership, Abertay will support these priorities through our own work and our civic engagement with partners in the city and region.

3. The Context - Current Civic Engagement Activity

Abertay University staff engage in a wide range of outreach activities - either through their work - particularly academic research and enhancing teaching practice through community engagement - or through personal motivation. 

A 2022 survey showed that the breadth of civic engagement was very wide. Here is a flavour of the range of activities at time of publication*:

  • Archive work with the community such as talks/volunteers and using our students to support this work. For example, the school project work with St Pauls' Academy creating games inspired by our archive. 
  • Many staff are Board Members/Trustees of charities. This covers national and local charities supporting all sorts of causes like education, housing, food, leisure and culture, law, health, sport, criminal justice, care, domestic violence, digital and cyber, refugees and international immigrants.
  • Social and Political Debates, hosted by the Sociology Division. 
  • Establishment of a Law clinic in 2023, in collaboration with a local law firm. This is run by our law students who are also involved in the TayPer community law advice project and also support CAB and a law clinic in Perth.
  • Staff involvement in supporting local events, when they have the time. For example, the Science Festival/Games Jams/Café Science/V&A and McManus, Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum exhibitions.
  • Outreach events in combat sports and with selected athletes. 
  • Engagement with performing arts and cultural organisations through a range of outreach and research projects.
  • Outreach support with the military and veterans supporting the transition to university and engaging with the children of military personnel to support university attendance.
  • Public talks/workshops/exhibitions with a wide audience like schools and colleges/community groups/charities/professional bodies. 
  • Staff supporting service improvements with Ninewells Hospital and other charities. 
  • STEM engagement through collaboration with a range of professional and voluntary groups, giving talks, attending committees as Abertay University ambassador and collaborative events with a wide range of partners.
  • Student Placements where students go out on placement with business and charities, the impact of which has been evidenced in relation to  sports sessions delivered by our students within the city’s schools.
  • Students solving business problems with local employers through the Innovation for Global Growth Competition run by the Dundee Business School for their students.
  • Students creating prototype games and involved with games companies/games expo (EGX) through the Dare Academy Summer Programme.
  • The Tayside Centre for Counselling (TCC) is a free community resource, staffed by our MSc counselling students.  
  • Delivery of Upskilling short courses (online micro-credential modules), free of charge in a range of subjects, delivered to a wide audience in Dundee and beyond. This covered nearly 1,000 people in 2022.
  • Work placements across the different programmes. In the academic year 2020-21 1,111 student placements were completed.
  • Abertay is a platinum member of the Tayside Chamber of Commerce and is involved in supporting events, talks and collaboration visits to support business in the area.


*This list is not exhaustive and does not include the outreach work specifically supporting student recruitment or delivered through academic research.

4. Summary of Context and Rationale for Civic Engagement

Abertay University has an important role to play in supporting civic engagement. There is potential to do more civic engagement, using our People actively working across Schools and Services both staff and students, our Place as in the communities we can engage with, our Estate and through Partners and through a Plan.

Civic Engagement brings benefits to our communities and to Abertay, offering staff and students opportunities:

  • To learn from and engage with our communities, to enhance our teaching practice, and to provide opportunities for participatory research.
  • That lead to future collaborations in teaching, research, recruitment, and other initiatives through networking.
  • For personal development and on-going learning through volunteering/work placements or internships. These opportunities support staff development.

This can also help student employability by enabling the demonstration of relevant skills and experience in an applied work or community setting.

These diverse activities, when supported corporately, give us the opportunity to enhance and elevate the Abertay brand. Staff and students engaging with our community are seen as Abertay ambassadors.

Civic Engagement allows Abertay to work to make a difference in the civic life in our communities for shared benefits.

5. Civic Engagement Strategic Plan

Our People, Place and Plan - working to make a difference through Civic Engagement

Our ambition is to provide impact to the community that we are a part of. The underpinning of our Civic Engagement Strategic Plan is that we will 'work to make a difference in our communities'.

The activities to support civic engagement will develop and evolve dependent on resourcing/uptake and are seen to be university- wide, delivered by academic and professional services staff at all levels and involve our student body and our Students' Association.

Strategic Aims

1. We will enable our staff and students to engage with our communities through a range of academic and non-academic activities.

2. We will improve the available information for staff and students on civic engagement activities and opportunities to widen our civic engagement activities and reach.

3. We will invest in our Estate and city centre campus to support our civic engagement.

4. We will embed civic engagement activities within our day-to-day work.

Why will we do this?

  • To support social, economic, cultural and community benefits and enhanced well-being in our region taking cognisance of local challenges and by encouraging more staff and students to take part in activities locally.
  • To learn from diverse communities and enrich our teaching, practice, and research.
  • To provide opportunities to enhance the Abertay University brand through staff and students who act as university ambassadors and through wider public engagement.
  • To engage with our community to support our teaching practice, business networks, research activity/support case studies.
  • To enhance the sense of ‘community’ at Abertay University by providing opportunities for students to engage locally and to gain valuable practical experience interacting with business, charities, and the public.
  • To provide opportunities for student development through volunteering, placements, RKE and engagement with the business and local community.
  • To enhance employability of our graduate population through networks and work experience.
  • To support more engagement with our communities by enhancing the information on opportunities for students and staff to get involved locally.
  • To provide opportunities for students and staff to engage with our communities through activities on our estate.
  • By improving the physical environment and offering opportunities for social/leisure/green spaces, we will provide an enhanced place for all that improves well-being.

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