The Value of Higher Education Civic Engagement – DCU case study

The Value of Higher Education Civic Engagement – DCU case study

Date: 23 October, 2014

AuthorProfessor Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic Engagement, Dublin City University

The Higher Education Authority in Ireland recognises the importance of collating and presenting accurate data on the performance of the higher education system (HEA, 2013).  In some areas of teaching and research activity, metrics and KPI’s are well established.  However there is still a need to develop a methodology to evaluate and benchmark engagement activities and their impact.  The social responsibility of the higher education system is enshrined in the 1997 Universities Act which requires universities “to promote the cultural and social life of society” and similarly in the 2006 Institutes of Technology Act.

Thus, to develop a performance evaluation framework for Irish higher education it is necessary to develop a better understanding of the economic and social value of higher education from a holistic perspective which covers the teaching, research and civic engagement activities of the sector.  The importance of higher education for economic prospects and quality of life is now well recognised.  What is needed is a methodology to capture the full economic and social value of higher education with robust and credible metrics.

 Dublin City University has piloted a new and holistic approach to valuation, taking examples of DCU ‘non-market’ engagement activities and applying economic ‘shadow-pricing’ techniques to impute the economic value to society of the outputs delivered.  Shadow-pricing is a tool used in cost-benefit analysis and is a recognised way to estimate the value of an output where an actual financial flow does not exist or where it is clearly a ‘non-market price’ (for example it is a ‘nominal’ or ‘administered’ price.) Shadow-pricing is about finding ways to impute the underlying economic value of an output which cannot be observed by looking at financial value alone.

Another important aspect to using cost-benefit analysis techniques, in a holistic framework to assess economic value generation, is that it is also legitimate to apply sets of ‘social weights’ to the outcome economic evaluation. Application of a ‘social weight’ means that a higher value can be imputed to an activity that affects the target group, compared to one which affects other groups.  This is in the interests of ‘equity’ and is appropriate when the project, programme or activity being assessed affects higher education policy priority social groups. This is particularly relevant where an initiative is explicitly targeted at priority groups, as the following DCU case study indicate.

DCU in the Community is a university initiative that is intended to act as a bridge between the local community and the University.  It does this by promoting access and participation in educational programs that benefit the residents of the University’s host community of North Dublin.  Its Community Based Learning Centre is located in the Shangan neighbourhood in Ballymun. DCU in the Community seeks to develop partnerships in the community through its advisory board, participation in Campus Engage (the national third level network for the promotion of civic engagement) and its outreach efforts in the Community. DCU in the Community has five core programmes of engagement, all of which seek to promote access to education:

-       Bridge to Higher Education;

-       Provision of FETAC Level 5 Modules;

-       Community Maths Programme;

-       Project FUTSAL and the Ballymun Football Foundation Programme;

-       Summer School

 Three different approaches were applied to shadow-price DCU in the Community activities.

(1)     A  Market-equivalent fee (a ‘parallel price’) was used to impute a value for the full time sports programme, FUTSAL. (Table 1.)  To determine a ‘market-equivalent fee’ for the FUTSAL programme we reviewed a range of courses (including FE Colleges) offering similar types of coaching and training activity. The official ‘full economic cost’ of this level of course has been stated by the Department of Education and Skills at  €3653 . While this is still an ‘administered price’ rather than a ‘market price’, it is likely to reflect the minimum economic value being delivered.

(2)     For volunteering work (Table 2), we applied the ‘opportunity cost’ of an hour of volunteer delivery time at minimum wage rates.

(3)     The remainder of the activities delivered (Table 3) were priced using participant time-cost (with a rate derived from official sources.) The time-cost approach is frequently used in for evaluation of transport initiatives and we drew on the recommended time cost figures used by the Irish Government for evaluation of transport and related projects.

Table 1: Value of one year’s delivery of FUTSAL. This used a market equivalent fee to impute the economic value. Income distributional weights derived from the Treasury Green Book were applied to give the ‘socially modified economic value.’

FUTSAL

Programme

Numbers Enrolled and completing course in 2012 (Year 1 Part 2 and Year 2 Part 1)

Equivalent ‘market-rate’  for annual fee

Imputed Economic Value

Application of social weights  ( as a targeted programme it is assumed that all participants are from the lowest income quintile)

Socially Modified Economic Value

 

Estimated as being between

 

41

€3653

€149,773

1.9 – 2.0

€284,569- £299,546

 

Table 2: Valuation of DCU in the Community-facilitated Volunteering. This used the opportunity cost of volunteer time at minimum wage rates.

Opportunity cost of Volunteer time across a range of DCU in the Community activities

Volunteer numbers

Average hours per volunteer delivered across DCU programmes in 2012

Total Hours delivered

Rate (assumed as minimum wage rate for adult with 2 years’ work experience)

Economic Value

 

42

13

630

€8.65

€5450

 

The social weighting of volunteer time in this case is neutral because it is assumed that the engagement in volunteering is in itself reflective of the volunteers’ own social weight preferences.

 Table 3: Valuation of other DCU in the Community Outputs. This uses the time-cost approach to each hour of participant time spent.

 Calendar Year 2012

Hours Delivered

Participant numbers

Total Participant Person Hours

Hourly Rate[1]

Economic Value €

Bridge into Education

128

16

1088

7.8

8486.4

FETLAC 5

75

37

660

28.1

18546

Digital Media iMac

20

9

180

7.8

1404

Boxing Clever

24

20

248

7.8

1934.4

Maths for parents

4

4

16

7.8

124.8

Physics Workshop for older learners

1

12

12

7.8

93.6

Mentoring (individuals)

112

1

112

7.8

873.6

Mentoring (Groups)

18

126

2268

7.8

17690.4

English Conversation classes

20

12

240

7.8

1872

Drop in pre-prep sessions for mature students

5

2

10

7.8

78

Summer School

26

57

1482

7.8

11559.6

TOTAL

433

296

6316

 

62662.8

 

Discussion with DCU in the community staff indicated that around 90% of all general DCU in the community are participants are from low income ‘priority groups.’ Assuming that the 90% are from the lowest quintile income group, with the remaining 10% of participants from the ‘mid’ quintile (i.e ‘neutral’ group), the appropriate weighting (1.9) can be applied to the economic value result (reflecting the greater social value being delivered).   This would have the effect of giving a Socially Modified Economic Value of €113,418 for the activities measured in Table 3.

Taking all of the elements together, the overall value generated by a single year’s outputs from (2012) DCU in the Community was considerable.

Summary of value generated by DCU in the Community

 

Economic Value

Socially Modified Economic Value

FUTSAL

€149,773

€284,569

VOLUNTEERING

€5450

€5450 

OTHER ACTIVITIES

€62663

€113,418

TOTAL

€217,886

€403,437

 

For further information contact Professor Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic Engagement, Dublin City University (Ronnie.munck@dcu.ie)