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Alumni engagement in higher education

BU staff have been collaborating to explore the role and value of alumni engagement in Higher Education (HE).

Dr Fiona Cownie, Senior Principal Academic in the Faculty of Media & Communication (FMC) has been researching the positive feelings of alumni towards their former institution and the wider impact for HE of focusing on relationships with alumni.

Dr Cownie has recently collaborated with Jonathan Goode, Head of Alumni Relations at BU, on this research and together they are working to utilise Dr Cownie’s findings to better connect with alumni. Dr Cownie’s research shows that personal connections with academics are central to alumni continuing to engage with their institutions after graduating – whether that’s by delivering guest lectures, providing feedback on course design, mentoring students or providing employment opportunities for future students.

Jonathan and the Alumni Relations Team have been using the findings from Dr Cownie’s research and working with other academics at BU to ensure that alumni engagement is used to enrich students’ experience and help boost employability. This, coupled with a recent alumni project within FMC, has resulted in an alumni engagement toolkit which is available to all staff, and offers an outline of the services available to engage with alumni, along with examples of best practice.

Dr Cownie said: “Our relationships with graduates have the potential to be central to the student experience. Understanding how we can use alumni’s intentions to give back can make a real difference to our educational provision. At the heart of these interactions with alumni are academics; connections between academics and graduates that were created when they were students are central to alumni’s willingness to invest time and energy to support HE.”

Academics and professional practitioners from universities in the UK and Europe recently came together at the Society of Research in Higher Education (SRHE) for a session to explore perspectives on alumni engagement in HE.

Dr Cownie led the workshop-style session, designed to further existing knowledge and research into the role and value of alumni. The session included contributions from Jonathan and London South Bank University’s Head of Business Partnerships and Associate Professor, Mel Godfrey. The day also included presentations from two BU alumni - Dev Mistry, who has since gone on to work in staff reward and recognition and Iv Marks, a graduate who was employed as a Student Engagement Co-ordinator and part-time lecturer at BU.

Jonathan said: “There is a huge value in bringing together the collective experiences and insights of academics and practitioners working with alumni. The SRHE session demonstrated the role of alumni communities in delivering an excellent student experience and in furthering the cause of the university itself. We can only achieve this through collaboration and we’re pleased to be leading this conversation at BU.”

Key topics discussed at the event included a desire to better understand why graduates want to give back to their universities and how best to build networks between central alumni relations teams and academics.

Following this session at the SRHE, Dr Cownie and Jonathan are hoping to develop a consortium of academics and practitioners to further research the wider alumni population. If successful, the consortium’s findings could potentially impact the university experience of students across the country. Dr Cownie and Jonathan have also been commissioned to co-author an entry in the next SAGE Encyclopaedia of Higher Education about alumni associations. One of the Alumni Relations Team’s key areas of focus for this year is developing its alumni mentoring programme, to support final year students as they progress into employment.

By working together, Jonathan and Dr Cownie have been able to effectively fuse research and practice to create an impact on the way that graduates are engaged with, which in turn has implications for current students’ experience of higher education. Dr Cownie and Jonathan are continuing to work together to disseminate their findings to colleagues at BU and further afield, leading the way in relationship-based alumni engagement.