Universities in Africa and elsewhere are under immense pressure to provide evidence of their contribution to society and respond to the demand to change. This requires universities to innovate and develop models of engaging with the communities at various levels. In doing so, universities have had to transition from the ‘two role model’ functions to ‘three role model’ functions i.e. from merely teaching and research to include direct relations with society. Universities have continued to evolve this third role reducing intermediaries between the results produced and their end users. This third role of the universities introduces intricate discussions as to when and how universities operationalise extension, facilitation and integration and what role they ought to play directly and/or indirectly in the development space. It is also a common consensus today that the global knowledge economy has fundamentally grown and it is the functional role of universities to facilitate this process through processing information. Consequently, the quality, effectiveness and relevance of the university system becomes paramount and will proportionately relate to the ability of people, society and institutions to develop.
In that regard, for universities to increase their contribution to development through the production and distribution of knowledge, universities in developing countries need to transform themselves into ‘developmental universities’. Achieving this perspective depends on the extent to which universities position themselves as agents of community development and they exude different community engagement strategies that are appropriate and work to the benefit of both the communities and the universities is pivotal. For example, how do universities focus as facilitators of partnerships that enhance the achievement of societal impact with diverse attribution of impact to arrange of actors working on the rural transformation space. Depending on the level of implementation, universities operate at different points on the continuum of community, industry or national engagement and development space. The strategies adopted may fall within one or more of the transactional, transitional and transformational engagement strategies but should always be adapted to suit university local conditions and their specific vision, mission and institutional system.
There is growing enthusiasm among universities and other institutions of higher learning to address these emerging issues in order help them work outside their traditional ‘silos’ of exclusion. Given the dynamics of the current issues around community engagement that are less defined by political boundaries but more by place requirements, a new type of engagement needs to be thoroughly thought through for efficiency, effectiveness, valorization and sustainability. It is within this context that the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM; see: www.ruforum.org) in partnership with Egerton University and Gulu University launched the community engagement program that was meant to facilitate greater university engagement with smallholder farming communities in Uganda and Kenya. Each of these universities developed a model relevant and applicable to its circumstances. Each of these universities developed a model of community outreach relevant and applicable to its circumstances i.e. the Farm Attachment at Egerton University and the Student Centered Outreach (S-C-O) model at Gulu University. These outreach model that facilitates students’ linkages with the community through an innovative engagement where students who are non-residents and/or resident facilitate community development processes and extension services. Over the years of implementation, these models have as shown commendable progress in increasing universities’ visibility at community level, training of high quality graduates and generation of appropriate technologies, transformation of farming practices and smallholder farmer livelihoods diversification. A significant momentum for institutionalizing and scaling out the community engagement with smallholder farming communities has been created. Doing this more widely requires a strategy to guide the process at RUFORUM network level.