Context & Drivers

Business and Community Engagement (BCE) is defined as the strategic management of interactions, partnerships and transactions with partners, clients and intermediaries external to the university, across the commercial sector, public sector, cultural landscape and the social and civic arena.


Universities and colleges are recognised as playing a key role in local and regional communities, as well as nationally and internationally. They contribute both economically and socially, but the breadth of this contribution is often not appreciated. Universities and colleges not only carry out research and deliver education through learning and teaching. They also:

  • work with employers to design and deliver relevant skills and produce high calibre graduates
  • provide consultancy to business, drawing on their knowledge and expertise in specialist fields
  • are commissioned to undertake focused research, or work collaboratively with external partners to solve complex problems
  • commercialise the outputs of research, resulting in spin-outs, patents or licensing
  • engage with cultural and community groups to share knowledge or creative outputs, improve the local environment, or influence policy

The Jisc BCE programme aims to facilitate more open access to knowledge and services and a more integrated approach to managing the diverse range of activities undertaken by universities and colleges. A core theme is supporting the strategic management of relationships with external partners. In the ‘knowledge economy’ this makes a key contribution to UK competitive advantage, skills enhancement and social cohesion.


Intended Outcomes: A more highly skilled workforce; A more efficient, dynamic and sustainable economy; A more cohesive knowledge-enabled economy.

The Four Dimensions

The four dimensions of BCE can be used to group together types of identifiable activity. These typically relate to the relationships most people recognise as existing at their institution.

  1. Employer Engagement describes learning & teaching activities with external organisations. They include Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and workforce development, and with the employer in the role of partner rather than just consumer.
  2. Knowledge Transfer and Exchange refers to a two-way flow of people and ideas between the research environment and wider economy, including activities such as consultancy and collaborative research.
  3. Lifelong Learning is the interaction between learning & teaching and individuals outside the institution, as in community-based learning.
  4. Public, Community and Cultural Engagement covers a range of activity, usually engaging individuals and wider society with the activities of the institution, such as public lectures and events.

Formation of the Programme

In 2006, Jisc was invited by its funding partners to consider how it might contribute to the knowledge transfer and exchange agenda.

National strategic developments in learning and teaching policy in 2007 also brought the new employer engagement agenda into focus, as a closely related activity.

The Jisc 2007-9 strategy included a strategic aim of ‘developing and implementing a programme to support institutions’ engagement with the wider community’ which led to the formation of the Business and Community Engagement programme. Initial scoping of the programme was shaped by:

  • the recommendations from a range of Jisc studies including the User Needs Study and the Study in the use of publicly funded IP
  • advice and guidance from the BCE Advisory Group
  • ongoing engagement and informal consultation with key stakeholders in knowledge exchange and transfer

Jisc appointed a programme manager for BCE in 2007 and in 2008 established a support team within the Jisc Advisory Services (later becoming Jisc Advance), providing a link between the programme funded innovation projects and the sector engagement of Jisc services.

The Mission

As a result of the BCE programme, institutions will be better equipped to respond more proactively to demand from business and community partners and clients and manage and deliver a portfolio of services to their strategic markets.

Through improved business intelligence and client relationship management systems and processes they will be equipped to undertake a prognosis of demand as well as a diagnosis of demand in their target markets, and thereby, working with intermediaries, be able to stimulate demand.

External Business and Community partners in turn will enjoy enhanced access to higher education knowledge resources, both those that higher education creates and those that higher education uses.

The BCE Programme will facilitate more innovative collaboration between institutions and between departments, helping to engender cross-disciplinary solutions.

It will make a major contribution to removing barriers between institutions and their external partners for example by negotiating controlled access to knowledge assets, and by a number of projects designed to support institutions in their enhancement of the capabilities and agility of SMEs.

New to BCE?

If you’re new to BCE and you’d like to investigate the area in a little more detail we recommend viewing the following article: ‘Business as usual? Supporting and enabling external engagement’. It’s easy to read, provides a nice breakdown of the types of BCE activity Jisc support and provides example stories of projects we’ve worked with.

A more comprehensive list of programme activities can be found under BCE Projects and Outputs.

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