Make universities, students and communities work together – a how-to
Going to a university could mean that students are fortunate enough to gain experiences in practice via field work and research. But it matters if they do these works at a multinational corporation or at a small, local community organization.
The time and energy that must be put into these projects by the students could be used in a way that the results stay significant even after the end of the semester. You can use the energy to help a socially important civic organization, a transition initiative that needs the labor force, an outside look or some kind of professional knowledge that students possess. In this article, I will demonstrate with our own experiences and with two specific, Hungarian examples that this cooperation benefits not only the communities and the students but society as a whole.
Projects by the students could be used in a way that the results stay significant even after the end of the semester. You can use the energy to help a socially important civic organization, a transition initiative that needs the labor force, an outside look or some kind of professional knowledge that students possess. In this article, I will demonstrate with our own experiences and with two specific, Hungarian examples that this cooperation benefits not only the communities and the students but society as a whole.
Why is it beneficial for a student to do research and work with a community? In my opinion, it motivates people since they can gain personal experiences in addition to the theoretical knowledge. They have a chance to do something that lasts and has meaning for other people too.
Cooperation also has a strong awareness-raising effect, because students get to know a new organizational form. Beyond this effect it is important to note that this kind of work shows an alternative way to live, it shows a good example and that this kind of transition does, in fact, work in practice.
In my opinion, it is also important that it has a strong effect on the culture of a participative society which could be important to the young adults in Hungary since we have little democratic socialization.
Why is it important for a transition initiative to cooperate with universities and to support the students’ research? It may seem obvious but the most important thing is that they can use the fresh professional knowledge, such as economical or financial knowledge that is very much needed in the Hungarian civic sphere. In addition, they can use the labor force in several projects.
Since young researchers arrive in the community as an outsider observer, they can easily recognize its strengths and weaknesses and they can help to create a vision and the desired path to reach it.
Communities can find a connection in both the students and the lecturers that can help them deal and cooperate with municipalities and the church. And, in my opinion, this cooperation has a strong identity shaping effect too since you are able to research a good practice.
This process should be communicated so that the transition becomes a trend-setter in a wider circle of society. Moreover, it is useful for the society because this process puts responsibility in the hands of students. As I have already mentioned the results that you show at the end of your semester has actual meaning and is used in practice. This could mean that students put more effort in it which will enhance education and the specific course.
My first example for this cooperation is Eötvös Loránd University’s “Kisközösségi” (Small Communities) program. It was launched in 2008 with the aim of helping to develop more and more local, ecological communities and thus strengthening the local economy and reducing environmental pressures. The leader of the program is András Takács-Sánta, who is also the principal of the university’s Human Ecology Department. A lot of past and present students of the Department are working in this program.
This initiative is an awareness-raising research and action program. Its theoretical side contains a 10-month long summer Human Ecology course and eco camps for adults and children. The researchers’ job is to survey Hungarian transitional initiatives and good practices – they will publish a book about this topic soon. Another aspect of their job that might be even more important regarding this article is that they help to create new transitional communities.
The best form of education comes from experience and practical knowledge.
The participants are most proud of Kóspallag (Small Hungarian village near to Budapet) where after 3 years of work the first community started its work in 2016. This community was mostly inspired by the “Kisközösségi” program. The community in Kóspallag has 25-30 members, partly local and partly ones who moved from the area. They all want to help change their municipality’s current situation. For now, they mostly organize community building programs such as eco-film clubs where they invite everyone in the village. To help the work of the community, the Human Ecology course sent their students to survey the village – this year energetics and heating were the main topics.
Another example is the Science Shop that operates at Corvinus University of Budapest and was initiated by two lecturers at the University, Réka Matolay, and György Pataki. They aim to connect lecture and research with society’s questions. This initiative is centered on problem-solving where lecturers and students research together, the lecturer supports the student’s education and civic participants ask questions and get answers. The work of the lecturers is the most important since they organize meetings, give the necessary organizational framework and make sure that everyone knows their responsibilities and tasks because this research needs serious trust from all parties.
A pilot form of this program is already working at the university for quite some time. The basic operational form is that the civic side of the project creates a list about their projects and needs from which the students can choose – this makes it a win-win situation for both parties. If everything goes as planned, Science Shop will be an integrated part of the university which will provide it the necessary background to operate. Their next program is going to be a so-called “thesis fair” where students can choose from thesis topics in relation of organizations and communities.
The most successful cooperation previously was the one between the students of Enterprise Development Department and the Transition Wekerle (It’s a local community group that works in a neighborhood called Wekerle in 19th district of Budapest). This was a good example of how they can implement their business and economic knowledge in the framework of a civic organization. They worked in 5 groups. 2 groups surveyed locals on the topic of renovating an old cinema that is now used as a community center. 2 groups surveyed the needs of both the consumers and the manufacturers in relation of a possible renovation of the local Wekerle market. The last group surveyed the locals on the development of an outdoor community center. The cooperation was integrated, structured and the demands were clear, and the students had the chance to present their results in front of the community.
My personal opinion as a student and as a young adult who works with a civic organization is that the best form of education comes from experience and practical knowledge. I believe that a lot of students wait for the chance to do something worthwhile, but unfortunately, there is rarely a possibility to do that at an average course. This kind of cooperation helps to see the world as it is while we can help those who need it the most.
Written by Anita Földesi-Nagy of Transition Hungary