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Eight Australian universities to trial rankings alternative

The tiny, landlocked eastern Himalayan nation of Bhutan measures its success not by wealth – but by happiness. This is no mere slogan; it evaluates it annually using a Gross National Happiness (GNH) scale, per the terms of its 2008 constitution. The scale is grounded on social equity, environmental protection, cultural preservation and good governance. ‘Community vitality’ is a GNH sub-clause.

“Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product,” the king of Bhutan from 1972 to 2006, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, originally said.

The UN has urged other countries to follow suit. While they haven’t holistically, some universities have – in the community vitality sense. The Carnegie Classification, established in the US in 1973, monitors diversity in colleges. The Community Engagement Classification, an optional sub-classification launched in 2005, has now been embraced in Australia.

Led by UTS and CSU – ACU, CQU, Curtin, Flinders, SCU and USC will also join a pilot of the classification, defined as the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

Indices include community relations (outreach and partnerships), infrastructure, funding and fundraising, alignment and community engagement training for staff for teaching and research.

The Swearer Center at Brown University – a private Ivy League institution in Providence, Rhode Island – now administers the classification. Delegates from the eight Australian universities went there in August to learn about it and consider how to adapt it to an Australian context.

“This international pilot project will enable us to develop partnerships and learning communities where we will exchange research, data and best practices with partners around the world,” Swearer Centre executive director and Associate Dean of Engaged Scholarship, Mathew Johnson, said at the time.

Australia isn’t the first on-US country to trial the classification: universities in Ireland have already done so, and Canadian ones are part-way through. Worldwide, 361 institutions are currently ‘Carnegie Community Engaged Campuses’.

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