EUCU.NET from my perspective - the last two years

by Tricia Alegra Jenkins [Catalyst for Dialogue]

The story of EUCU.NET is closely interwoven with that of the SiS Catalyst project and for several years the two were inter-dependent and ran in parallel. The EUCU.NET network gave birth to SiS Catalyst and has continued after that project ended. This time two years ago we were completing the final year of SiS Catalyst and not only was my life about to change forever,  EUCU.NET was also approaching a new phase in its existence.

The changes in my life have been profound. I have left the University of Liverpool, the City of Liverpool and the UK. I  have now established my home base in Croatia, founded a small company called Catalyst for Dialogue and am working as a Freelance Adviser. The heart of my work is still the same though, exploring the relationship between universities and children and promoting the urgent need for radical social and educational change.

For me, the concept of Children’s Universities is a deceptively simple one behind which runs deep possibilities for institutional and societal transformation. It is an idea which can be addressed at many levels and it is also adaptable to many different situations. However the core elements are simple - children, academia and the urgent need for change. This combination can be rolled out in a myriad of different ways and this is the strength of the Children’s University movement but it also its vulnerability.

Many Children’s Universities are peripheral to their host institution and are frequently not seen  as part of the mainstream work of teaching and research. They struggle within the divisions of education funding, as the money related to children's education is usually directed through schools. They are often also struggling for long-term stability, whilst at the same being very innovative and at the cutting edge of developments. This I know from personal experience is not always a very comfortable place to be - though it can be an exciting one and in my opinion a very necessary one.

EUCU.NET is a network, a vehicle for sharing and developing ideas and as a consequence is of immense value to its members. However, networking in itself is difficult to get funding for, and this is particularly true for a group of individuals who are usually working at the margins of their institutions and on shoestring budgets.

We have done well over the last two years to have survived the transition from SiS Catalyst funding and this is true for both EUCU.NET and for me! I see EUCU.NET as being a very important element in the legacy of SiS Catalyst and over the last two years, as one of the Presidents of EUCU.NET, it has been my pleasure to have included this and the concept of Children’s Universities in over 30 presentations, delivered in 20 countries in six continents!

However I see my work as that of an Ambassador for the concept of Children’s Universities, representing to the best of my abilities the marginalised and the passionate individual members. The hard work is done by them, and most importantly by the team in Vienna. I must applaud the work of the Kinderbuero Uni Wien office as without their commitment, dedication and efforts there would be no EUCU.NET. I would like to thank my wonderful Viennese friends from the bottom of my heart as what they do is beyond their personal, organisational or even national interests. They are true Champions of the change and the future of children - thank you!

The Future of EUCU.NET

EUCU.NET is a network organisation for individuals with passion. Often they are working in isolated positions within Children’s Universities that are poorly funded and marginalised. EUCU.NET provides an opportunity for ideas to be exchanged and projects to be developed but most importantly, it is a way that these passionate individuals get the support that they need to continue with their work.

But does EUCU.NET have a bigger role beyond this?

For me the answer to this is very definitely YES.

EUCU.NET is a champion of an idea. This is the very simple concept that the ‘grown-ups’  need to find ways to listen to children - this goes beyond changes within organisations and institutions and is fundamentally about the future survival of the world. We wrap this idea up under the banner of Children’s Universities and we can talk with eloquence and passion about the social, economic and institutional benefits of working with children, especially in the field of science education and social inclusion. However this fine talk is really just a way to get a foot in the door - to start a conversation.

It is remarkable how very few people disagree with the concept of Children’s Universities,  however this lack of disagreement is not being systematically converted into positive endorsement of the need to include children in the decisions of today. However people are well meaning but busy - for me the key to the future of EUCU.NET is to identify a simple brand which encapsulates this fundamental concept and to then seek partnerships and alignments with others and their agendas. Finding a way of making it easy for them to change their thinking.

I would like to see EUCU.NET continuing to provide the much-needed support for the passionate individuals who are working in their own organisations and institutions, and of course to be opportunistic about project involvement and opportunities. However as a network it is difficult to get much external funding for the networking role - but we need to recognise that some funding for the central coordinating role is crucial. I think we also need to recognised though that for many people being involved with EUCU.NET will have to continue to be the self financed situation that it is today.

And the future of EUCU.NET as the champion of the big idea? I think the way forward is to ‘align agendas’. To find ways of getting into other networks, projects and groups as the ‘Champion of Children’s Universities'. The ones with the vision, the knowledge and the history of this work. It will be difficult to get paid for this but we are a network of knowledge and that is what we should be promoting to others. Finding the simple brand that will support the offer that the inclusion of EUCU.NET thinkers at their conferences and meeting will be worth the cost of their travel and accommodation.

For me the importance of Istanbul is to clarify the vision - what is the simple brand that encapsulates the EUCU.NET thinking and will provide our future route into other networks, groups and resources? Not an easy task but one that I would happily put my energies into as one of the Presidents of EUCU.NET, if endorsed again by the membership.

Varaždin, April 2016

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