Engaged University of the Year Award

Australian Catholic University

Finalist of the Engaged University of the Year Award

"ACU achieving impact through empathy"

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At Australian Catholic University (ACU), our commitment to community is part of the university mission. We value community engagement as a key means of advancing our mission in serving the common good and enhancing the dignity and wellbeing of people and communities. It is integral to our teaching, learning and research. There is a particular focus on working with communities who have experienced disadvantage and/or marginalisation. Community engagement at ACU isn’t just about helping others in the short term. It’s about working with and listening to communities to forge long-term relationships and develop meaningful solutions to complex problems. To this end, community engagement at ACU is guided by five principles based upon Catholic social teachings: 1) Building connections; 2) Developing understanding; 3) Affirming dignity; 4) Pursuing justice; and 5) Acting with humility. ACU is committed to ensuring that all students and staff have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their community. For students, community engagement is one of the distinctive elements of an ACU education. As part of our unique Core Curriculum, students directly interact with community through one of nearly twenty community engagement-embedded units. For staff, ACU has created a dedicated time release policy to enable staff to undertake community engagement during working hours. Additionally, ACU runs numerous community engagement programs in both local and overseas communities; promotes professional development related to universitycommunity engagement; prioritises community-engaged research and scholarship; and offers community engagement scholarship programs for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Key People

Professor Greg Craven AO, GCSG
Vice-Chancellor and President
Australian Catholic University

Fr Anthony Casamento csma
Vice President
Australian Catholic University

Professor Sandra Jones
Pro Vice Chancellor (Engagement)
Vice President’s Portfolio,  Australian Catholic University

Dr Matthew Pink
National Community Engagement Manager
Vice President’s Portfolio,  Australian Catholic University


We would like to acknowledge the work of Professor Jude Butcher, former Director of ACU’s Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE). Professor Butcher and staff from IACE, the institute prior to ACU Engagement (ACU’s current community engagement division), were instrumental in developing the community engagement culture at ACU.


Staff Community Engagement

ACU's Vice-Chancellor and Phil, Big Issue Vendor

Community Engagement Scholarships

Kicking Goals Together - Celebrating diversity through sport

Community Partnerships for Student Learning

Work Skills Training for Youth

Celebrating Student Volunteers at ACU's Ballarat campus

Skill Up Certificate Ceremony

Community Engagement PhD Scholarships

ACU and DePaul University Conference on Community Engagement and Service-Learning


Impacting lifes

One important community engagement endeavour at ACU is Kicking Goals Together (KGT) – a sport for development program that engages youth from refugee and migrant and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Initiated by the Rohingya community and ACU, KGT has grown to serve youth from multiple backgrounds including Rohingya, Iraqi, Karen, Nepalese, and from several African nations. Over 400 people have participated on community, student and staff teams. Run alongside is an 8-week Skill Up program which provides training around Australian workplace culture and employability skills. Ninety-nine youth from refugee and migrant backgrounds have graduated.

Husna Nabi is a KGT graduate who migrated to Australia from Pakistan. Since arriving in Brisbane in 2014, Ms Nabi has graduated from high school, gained entry into ACU – where she has also been a student ambassador – and recently secured a job at a prominent bank. Ms Nabi attributes much of this success to her involvement in KGT: “Before I started with KGT I used to just go to school and then come back… After joining KGT I have come across how to get confidence.” The program helped Ms Nabi navigate her way into a university placement, as well as gaining employment. “As soon as I knew KGT was offering classes for preparing me for a workplace, the next class I was there to learn. It was a wonderful experience. I got to learn things which were outside of my boundaries that I was afraid of, but not anymore.” Read more at young-migrant-student-husna-nabi-with-study-opportunities


Lessons learned

Growing the culture of an engaged university requires embedding community engagement within the Mission, identity, and strategic plan. When community engagement is part of the strategic plan, academics and professional staff recognise the need to include it in their performance plans and department operations plans.

An engaged university needs visible support for community engagement from the most senior levels of the organisation. When there is a clear and consistent message that community engagement is a priority for the university, staff do not feel like it is an ‘add-on’ or something that is a lower priority than traditional academic pursuits. At ACU, our Vice-Chancellor is a passionate supporter of community engagement, and he models this to staff and students by actively participating in community engagement activities. We also have a Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and a dedicated ACU Engagement team to promote, support and celebrate community engagement.

Developing the culture of community engagement at a higher education institution must also work from the ground-up, and in an organic way in partnership with community. At ACU we emphasise that community engagement is the right and responsibility of all staff and students, not a single organisational unit. We create space within workloads and the social and physical environment for relationship building and developing community engagement partnerships and programs. Some examples of how this has been supported is through ACU’s Community Engagement Time-Release Policy (CETR) and Vice-Chancellor’s staff awards that recognise contributions to community engagement. These approaches are supported by genuine endeavours to open the university’s physical space to the community.


What's coming?

In October 2019 the Vice-Chancellor approved establishment of the Stakeholder Engaged Scholarship Unit (SESU), and embedded this into ACU policy. The SESU will provide increased opportunities for ACU to collaborate with Mission-aligned partners to complete scholarship and evaluation of community programs, and support community-based social justice and inclusion endeavours. Community partners will be able to make requests for support and the SESU will then source appropriate expertise ACU wide.

Another important ‘next step’ is to support the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification Framework and Pilot in Australia. The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification Framework has been furthering best practice in United States higher education institutions since 2006. ACU is part of a ten-university pilot charged with contextualising the framework to an Australian higher education context. The benefits of adopting such a classification system will enable ACU (and other Australian institutions) to continue to refine best practices and make this increasingly coherent across ACU. It is anticipated that Carnegie classification will become the ‘gold standard’ for university-community engagement in the Australian higher education sector. In 2020, we are expanding our student community engagement (placement) opportunities to an even broader group of students, with the development of a new Post Graduate community engagement subject that will be available across all disciplines.

In 2020, we will be increasing professional development opportunities for ACU staff to enhance the mutual benefits of staff engaging with community. This will be completed via professional development workshops, community engagement lecturer in charge forums, and a central repository of online resources.



Students enrolled in community engagement-embedded units in 2019


Hours of domestic community engagement pursued by ACU students in 2019


% students who felt their community engagement was relevant to their career


% students motivated to participate in future community engagement activities


2019 ACU Community Engagement funding allocation


2020 ACU Community Engagement funding allocation


Students participated in international community engagement projects


% staff involved in activities relating to community engagement

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