PURE dead brilliant
Professor of Adult & Lifelong Education Michael Osborne is a bit of an expert at making connections. He is involved with an innovative research project (PURE) that is helping cities and regions to get more out of their universities by making links and sharing expertise.
‘Traditionally universities do two main things: they teach students and they do research,’ says Professor Osborne. ‘But there’s a lot more that universities can contribute to their cities and regions. That’s what we call the third mission.’
Put another way, the third mission of any university could be defined as the contribution it makes to the economic, social, environmental and cultural development of the region where it is located. The PURE project is a large-scale research exercise that is mapping the ways in which the university sector is contributing to the third mission in given areas around the world, and then sharing this information with other regions that may be comparable; creating connections that can promote the exchange of ideas.
There are currently 17 regions across Europe, Africa, Australia and the US engaged in the PURE project. Experts work with each region, analysing their current methods and then producing an action plan for activities that they might wish to engage in.
‘There’s a big interest, for example, in ways in which the university sector can contribute to the green economy,’ Professor Osborne says. ‘Green skills for green jobs. For others, it’s the challenges that can be presented by geographical isolation in some of our rural areas. Another strand relates to the role of the university in the cultural development of the city.
‘Once people have decided what they’re interested in, we work on creating interactivity between them. That’s where technology comes in.’
PURE has created its own virtual learning environment which is broken down into thematic areas of interest. All of the regions who are involved are granted access to it. More than just exchanges of text-based material, it’s also linked to PC-based video conferencing and what Professor Osborne calls “cluster-based” discussions between groups of people with a cluster leader appointed by PURE.
‘We’re creating a virtual community of practice,’ he says. ‘It’s not about dumping material on the web; it’s about creating interactivity with the material. We’re combining text, video, audio, but more importantly, we’re trying to find easy ways for people in different parts of the world to get together and communicate.’
PURE stands for PASCAL Universities Regional Engagement. The research project was launched in October 2008 and is run by PASCAL, an international observatory that aims to promote the exchange of best practice, ideas and policies about place management, social capital and learning regions.