Skip to main content Accessibility Statement

What do we mean by community? For students, this might be their immediate learning community – other students on their course, or with whom they share a particular interest or characteristic (perhaps a postgraduate or international student community). But they will interact with the local community outside of their college or university as well: some will be studying locally to their homes and families so might be embedded within the local community and others will be developing relationships as learners who are living near their institutions for part of the year and are part of another community, in a different part of the UK or a different country, at other times. Some may be remote from their institution, studying at a distance, which gives another experience of being part of a learning community.


Partnerships go two ways, and members of a local community will also have a relationship with a college or university and its learners, whether that is because an institution is local or because there are learners within the community but at a distance from their institution.


When they are successful, community partnerships can be enormously enriching for everyone, but what does that look like and how can community partnerships be built and strengthened for the enhancement of the student learning experience?


This project aims to explore how these different communities interact and enrich each other and how individuals move within and between them. Over this year, we will explore communities through a range of outputs.


  • Short, filmed case studies showcasing student-community partnerships. 
  • Photo gallery illustrating the Learner Communities and the diverse ways in which learners interact with their communities.
  • Guidelines to support student organisations in building relationships with their local communities. 
  • Presentation at the Enhancement Themes Conference in June 2023.

Project outcomes

Learner Communities: The photography output

The student learning experience has always extended beyond the classroom. In recent years, however, the spaces in which students live and learn have expanded. The pandemic significantly increased the use of hybrid and distance learning courses; housing markets in Scotland have driven students to stay further from their campuses; and a nationwide push to increase the number of international students in the country has all meant that the idea of a traditional “journey to campus” is no longer an accurate representation of students today.

To understand how students can learn in partnership with their community, it is crucial to understand what these learning spaces look like and the communities our diverse student bodies inhabit. This artistic output, first shown at QAA Scotland’s International Enhancement Conference in June 2023, aims to demonstrate to educators the experience of diverse student groups learning in Scotland’s communities and better equip higher education policymakers to respond to the current student experience.

Exploring Community Partnerships in Learning, Teaching and Assessment: Conference workshop

This workshop presentation explored how students, students’ associations and their institutions engage with the community outside their college or university, focusing on learning, teaching and assessment spaces. When they are successful, community partnerships can be enormously enriching for everyone, but what does that look like, and how can community partnerships be built and strengthened to enhance the student learning experience? What are the existing examples of practice in Scotland where institutions are working in partnership with the community on learning and teaching? What does ‘community’ mean in the context of hybrid and online courses?

In June 2023, this presentation was delivered at QAA Scotland's International Enhancement Conference. It was led and facilitated by steering group members, supported participants in exploring these questions and considering how we can best create and sustain supportive and effective community partnerships that benefit all parties.


Exploring Community Partnerships in Learning, Teaching and Assessment

Publication date: 22 Jun 2023

Conference workshop summary: Exploring Community Partnerships in Learning, Teaching and Assessment

Publication date: 18 Oct 2023

Guidelines for Developing Community Partnerships

There are many opportunities for colleges, universities and student groups to work in partnership with their local communities and, where these are successful, the experience can be enriching for everyone concerned.  

These guidelines, curated by Oluwafunmilola Akinoso following a workshop with members of the Student-led Steering Group 2023, provide some key considerations to support the development of successful community partnerships. 

Developing community partnerships: Guidelines for student groups and institutions in Scotland’s colleges and universities

Publication date: 22 May 2023

Case studies

These three case studies explore different ways in which projects can be built successfully between institutions and communities. They illustrate how enormously rewarding engagement in such projects can be, providing new opportunities and enriching the lives and experiences of many people beyond those immediately involved in them.

They reflect on a range of considerations related to learning and teaching and supporting learners, as well as community partnerships, but particular advice that emerges across the case studies includes:

  • the importance of listening
  • making an effort to understand the community
  • the value of respectful and constructive challenge both ways in the relationship
  • being prepared to invest time and patience
  • starting small – you don’t need a big funding application to begin something positive.
The Open University in Scotland: The Open Learning Champions programme

Watch the interview with David Johnstone and Gemma Burnside.

The Open Learning Champions programme aims to equip a wide network of people from third-sector organisations with the knowledge and skills to use the OU’s free learning resources so that they, in turn, can support learners in their communities to use these resources. One of the intentions is to support those learners in making the transition from informal to formal learning.


Open Learning Champions are key to reaching these wider communities because they provide a trusted voice as people who already have a relationship with those whom the OU is trying to encourage. Importantly, the Champions also understand the context of those communities and some of the challenges and barriers they face so these can then be mitigated from the outset.

Top tip: If you are looking to establish and develop a community partnership, listen well and put in effort to understand the community with which you are trying to work.

University of St Andrews: Vertically Integrated Projects

Watch the interview with Dr Shruti Narayanswamy in conversation with Hitanshi Badani (Deputy Student Theme Lead).

Vertically Integrated Projects (VIPs) are credit-bearing research modules for undergraduates with a focus on teamwork and gaining active research skills and learning. The initiative started in 2020 and there are currently 12 active modules working with five local institutions. Through these, the students can deepen their understanding of communities in St Andrews, Fife and Scotland more broadly. Teams comprise students from different levels of study and different subject disciplines.


Communities work in many different ways within the VIP initiative. First, there is the community of students engaging in the VIP programme; then there is an annual VIP conference which enables those students to showcase the original work they have been doing - and this is not just for the University community, but reaches beyond that to the broader local community.


As an example, one project has been focused on the Botanical Gardens in St Andrews and how the Gardens can be promoted more to students and the local people of St Andrews as a community space. Another initiative researched advocacy, working with the traveller community in Fife. And a further project has resulted in a photography exhibition in the Byre Theatre, a University-managed space for the town.

Key learning includes: Community building takes time and requires patience, and it is most effective when it happens in a fairly organic way. Also, start small - sometimes, that might mean beginning simply with a conversation, inviting someone in to speak to students, and gradually building a relationship. You do not need to begin with a big funding application - a guest lecture might be more effective.


There are other benefits to the University as well, for example by developing in the students some of the key skills required for entrepreneurship and enterprise. There are other regulatory challenges to resolve, for example where people on one project are registered for different amounts of credit and how that can be assessed. So, the reflections in this case study go beyond the immediate considerations of communities in learning and teaching to broader pedagogical considerations.

University of Glasgow: Baltic Street Project

Watch the two-part case study interview with Dr Helen Traill in conversation with Hitanshi Badani (Deputy Student Theme Lead).

The Baltic Street Adventure Playground is run by the children in the local community in the East End of Glasgow. This project with the University of Glasgow, which was funded through the Social Innovation Fund initiative, was built with the Baltic Street Adventure Playground community to look at the ethics of consumption when sustainability is approached from an area of high urban deprivation. It focused on developing ideas, particularly around opportunities for a community food hub as this was a neighbourhood with challenges around food access that were both economic and geographic.


The project team within the University was based within the Adam Smith Business School at the University but was interdisciplinary in terms of specialisms within the team. One of the greatest assets of the project, which is intangible in some respects, is the relationship between the partners - the ongoing relationship and conversations which have informed developing ideas on what sustainability might mean to different types of community. Outputs have included the creation of a community pantry using food from the Fair Share scheme (food waste from supermarkets) and a polytunnel to enable food to be grown by the community.


An important note is that this was not about the University coming in and imposing a model for the community to use but about providing some resource and supporting them in making initiatives happen because they know their community best. This is a key point for methodology: the project was about collaboration and not going in with fixed ideas. Sustainability is also a very middle-class concept and this project was about exploring sustainability from the perspective of different consumers and different communities. There was an extraordinary creativity - the group never refused a donation and always made use of anything they were given.


Developing trust was also important, and this included dressing appropriately for an adventure playground (ie not suits). The researchers had to work to build the relationship and emphasise the importance of communication, which started with the University members listening to how the Baltic Street group wanted to work, sharing how the University worked, and jointly developing a way of working together. By developing a strong relationship with this immediate group, being prepared to help out with their efforts and making their initiative work, they became the brokers of a successful relationship beyond with their wider community.


Key learning includes: Invest time. Get to know the community and what they need, what their mission and aims are, and then put time and effort into building the interpersonal relationships. And this is a lesson for us internally, not just in external projects.