MUSEUMS OFFER ENORMOUS POTENTIAL for the development of meaningful partnerships between universities and their local and regional communities; they may be a university’s main or only space where academic-public engagement can take place. As accessible and inspiring community resources, the museums offer ways to engage with social and cultural groups who might not otherwise engage with the university. The culture of innovation and experimentation at the heart of University research extends to the museums, which are often prepared to take risks in developing new ways of working with audiences to explore complex and challenging issues.
Larger University Museums serve as the principal museum services in their area, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, while smaller museums are in many cases extremely popular with the public and bring a diversity of cultural provision to their regions. Family activities form a well-established and substantial part of many museums’ public programmes, with activity days, school holiday events, pre-school activities, outreach visits, clubs and even sleepovers introducing large numbers of family visitors to museums on campus.
University Museums make an important contribution to lifelong learning, working with Continuing Education departments to provide expertise, resources and spaces for a wide variety of accredited courses. Many participate in national initiatives such as Adult Learning Week and work with partners such as the University of the Third Age, Friends’ organisations and volunteers, drawing new learning communities to the university. Community engagement work extends beyond learning: University Museums have well-established and well-respected programmes around health and social welfare agendas, working with researchers to study the outcomes and impacts of their work in ways that would be less effective outside the higher education environment.