Universities as Sites of Citizenship and Civic Responsibility



Project Description and History


The University of Pennsylvania is the organizational center for the Universities as Sites of Citizenship and Civic Responsibility Project, a research project that explores the actual activities of institutions of higher education that support democratic values and practices; assesses their dispositions and capabilities to promote democracy; and examines how the use of university resources can improve the contributions of higher education to democracy on the campus, and in the local community and wider society.

Universities as Sites of Citizenship and Civic Responsibility is a global research project of the International Consortium on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy. The general academic contributions of this empirical study include:

  • a serious examination of a core institution shaping democratic development
  • an empirical basis for developing theories of democratic development in the global era
  • instruments for assessing, understanding, and increasing the levels of civic responsibility in different societies
  • and analysis for understanding the relationships among higher education, democratic schooling, and democratic societies

The research targets universities because they are strategic institutions for the development of global democracy, a source of knowledge about how democratic institutions can be constructed, and the incubators of global citizens and leaders. We also believe that universities, as institutions with established international linkages, are relatively easy to organize for global research. In addition, colleges and universities are now assuming a leading role in the development of global democracy.

This is a cross-national study, comparing universities in over forty European countries, both new and established democracies, South Africa, and the 50 states in the United States. The research project is divided into three phases:

  1. A pilot study (which has been completed) of students, faculty, and administration and their relationship to local government, schools, business, media, and civic groups
  2. A survey of the above in a sample of approximately 125 institutions in Europe, a similar number in the United States, and 20 in South Africa
  3. Analysis, formulation of recommendations, and distribution of materials that can be used by institutions of higher education to discuss and decide their responsibilities for civic education and democracy

The program has both research and educational objectives. The research objectives in the first phase are to map what universities are doing in civic education for students, the community and the society at large. This is a study of institutions, not merely a survey of students and faculty. The research will provide a comparative, global database on what can be accomplished, what kinds of universities are responding to the democratic challenges of our time, and why.

The educational objectives include making colleges and universities aware of their responsibilities for democracy. For example, in Albania and Kosovo, our researchers report a first-time encounter with the issues of democratic education. It will also provide examples of good practice, a network for exchanging information, and a point of comparison with other institutions around the world. Today, with colleges and universities heavily committed to education for markets, this project offers the counterpoint of education for democracy, the foundation for the legitimacy of markets. It also provides universities with data needed for effective civic engagement and ongoing educational reform.

The pilot phase of the research was supported by of the Council of Europe and the U.S. National Science Foundation under the auspices of the International Consortium on Higher Education, Civic Education and Democracy. The U.S. members of the Consortium are the American Association of Higher Education, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Council for Higher Education, and Campus Compact. The Council of Ministers and Standing Conference of the European Ministers of Education of the Council of Europe have endorsed this project. South Africa has joined the Consortium through the Community Higher Education Service Partnership of the Joint Education Trust.

A by-product of this research will be the development of approaches, methodologies, and networks for intensive multi-site comparative international study on a range of issues (e.g., health, culture, political socialization, economic development). The project is now in the process of expanding to Australia, South Korea and Latin America.


“Beyond Rhetoric: University-Community Engagement in Victoria” (PDF)
by Alexandra Winter, John Wiseman, and Bruce Muirhead

About the Pilot Study




For Reports, including Summary Statistics for Faculty and Student Surveys or Selected Bibliographys, please contact the International Consortium office.


o “The university as res publica” Sjur Bergan, Ed., CoE Higher Education Series No. 1, (2004)
o Beyond Rhetoric: University-Community Engagement in Victoria (PDF)