PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Children's Universities
The evolution of this successful model for promoting children’s participation in the dialogue between science and society

Chris Gary  

Over centuries, universities used to be well-established institutions of research and teaching. However, during recent years they have gained much more consideration as relevant actors in the spheres between academic research, innovation and public engagement. This "third mission" of universities is built upon two strands of engagement: knowledge transfer and co-creation of knowledge on one hand and societal engagement on the other hand - to contribute to social equality and the development of society at large. As one possible format of direct engagement with society, the term "Children's University" became prominent during the last decade, when a larger number of universities have initiated science engagement programmes for children typically aged 7-14 years. A EUCU.NET survey has revealed almost 400 comparable activities in 40 countries, which involve more than 500.000 children each year in programmes arranged by 15.000 academics. Initially, the Children's University approach was quite traditional in regards of science communication, aiming at sparking the interest of young people in particular fields of scientific research, notably the STEM area. However, encouraged by direct encounters with this audience of non-traditional age, universities became increasingly aware of needs and perceptions of their potential future students and in particular started to reflect on their social, cultural and economical diversities and the consequences of these diversities in the relation with higher education. Consequently, the focus of Children's University-type programmes is increasingly shifting from a mere knowledge transfer towards more diversified formats of engagement, which are actively trying to impact on social contexts but also promoting a culture of inclusiveness and participation within the HE establishments. This session will outline the evolution of the Children's University approach, illustrated by successful case studies from panelists, and will put up the potential of Children's Universities for a more inclusive Higher Education landscape for discussion with the audience.

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