Vienna Children’s University [KinderuniWien]
Vienna Children’s University (VCU) was initiated in 2003 with three major objectives: urge of knowledge, perspectives and participation.
Our philosophy is to be advocates for children in the Higher Education (HE) context. In unison we support scientists and students to enter the dialogue and to actively engage with children at eye level. Initially, compatibility of engagement with family and studying, teaching and research at the same time has been a core element and animating spirit for VCU. Very soon, VCU turned into large-scale science communication at its best - putting the messages across in a child oriented way and wrapping rocket science into bursting bubbles for those aged from 7 to 17. We are introducing into the academic world and demonstrating educational choices at one go.
VCU aims to match the commonplace curiosity of children with the inquiring mind of scientists – it wants is to get a hearing for the concerns of scientists and children in equal shares. We are commending the diversity of science, arts and humanities to the forthcoming generations. At the same time we are standing up for the needs of children and equality of opportunities.
Over the years, targeting of delivery became more diversified within VCU – with made-to-measure activities to engage with (local) minorities with diverse social, cultural or ethnical background best possible.
At first, massive media attention on VCU was presumably due to a coincidence with the disillusioning PISA results – which caused a general debate about the efficiency of systems and participation in education. Even if not intended in the first place, VCU was related to this discussion and had an impact on policy development. This became obvious, when the Federal Ministry of Science and Research established a subsidy scheme that is now a periodic source of funding for Children’s University-type activities, notably influenced by experiences gained from individual funding of VCU as the first of this kind in Austria, but based on consistent and comparable standards.
VCU initiated a weekly Children‘s University serial in a nation-wide newspaper and a radio programme by the national Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, but media coverage is not at all an end in itself - rather than it supports awareness raising among parents and encourages educators, scientists, HE managers and policy makers for considering the basic idea of Children’s University. An impact on attitudes towards science in general and educational opportunities in particular is basically evidenced by repeated evaluation among children and parents - which includes questionnaire-based or oral surveys, registration data mining or analysis of drawings and feedback letters. Interviews and observations among participating scientists have revealed a substantial backflow of didactical experiences gained within VCU. Past teaching habits are reflected and science communication abilities are increasingly acknowledged as relevant within the scientific community: Academics who are able to communicate their research towards children in a way which gets them interested in science at an early age, can do this for almost everyone!
At the same time, VCU became a reference model at international levels. In consequence, the EC assigned Kinderbüro Universität Wien to initiate the European Network of Children’s Universities (EUCU.NET) under FP7. The aim was to foster the exchange of experience, to make the relevance of this approach more visible on European levels and to contribute to quality development and impact analysis. Since 2008, EUCU.NET has supported a considerable number of universities in initiating Children’s University type models and has observed a substantial spreading of the basic idea all over Europe. As an NPO administrated by Kinderbüro, EUCU.NET has more than 40 institutional founding members and almost 150 associated projects.
VCU incorporates three stages of intervention with children of different ages and diverse socio-economical backgrounds:
The on-site part: The flagship project (more than 30.000 children from age 7-12 so far and a constantly rising total number of participants) during school holidays offers a broad variety of 500 different lectures, workshops, seminars and excursions - ranging from archaeology to zoology, including arts and sport. All happens directly at the universities and includes as much as “undergraduate”-experience as possible - from enrollment procedure to graduation ceremony.
The on-tour part: In socially deprived areas, where children would be unlikely to participate on-site, the VCU science road show takes the university along to public places. In such boroughs, scientists give open-air lectures and act as relevant role-models – just as the students from all over the world, who talk about their academic career while doing hands-on experiments with the children. The VCU tour even brings University to schools in the provinces, when progress to HE is scarce because of their structurally disadvantaged location. At the same time, supplementary action is taken to possibly bring children back to the universities:
Additional action is taken to bring children possibly back to the universities: A “Day Ticket” programme picks children up from their everyday surroundings and offers them full days at the university with special tutors, food and company. This allows them to start their own Children’s Universities experience.
The on-board part: The Uniclub aims to engage and empower young people (aged 13-17) who are already beyond the age range of Children’s University activities – with a special focus on targeting, social inclusion and the promotion of selected study fields. Basic and considerate confidence building are key in this programme, which supports the formation of interst groups and also includes parents.
In recognition, Kinderbüro was awarded the Sustainability Award for Regional Integration by the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research in 2008. All VCU programmes are free of charge and offer free choice and voluntary participation. This is enabled by reliable partners and corporate sponsors. Moreover, external cooperation incites constant quality and impact monitoring - and challenges us to explore and explain the ties between university and economy.
Additional Relevant Information
VCU in a nutshell:
University of Vienna Rector Georg Winckler, welcome address at EUCU.NET 2009 Conference http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOc4bX_W1gY&list=UUtWRNtvmoRjqKjWjCWRaLSQ...
VCU 2011 course book (German only): http://kinderuni.at/files/KUW_STB_2011_Web.pdf