Ethical imperatives in community engagement




Ethical imperatives, Community Engagement, Partnerships, Higher Education, Systems theories


As the impetus for community engagement (CE) grows in higher education, it is imperative that such growth takes place within a sound ethical framework. While research-related ethics and norms are well developed, there is now a need for the development of ethical guidelines to underpin CE initiatives. We begin by framing the discussion of ethics within policy and theoretical frameworks underpinning CE in higher education in South Africa. Core concepts and values emerging from these frameworks, such as social responsibility, Ubuntu and interconnectedness, are important starting points for ethics in CE. As CE involves the exercising of leadership by universities and community partners, we explore key ethical concepts to underpin established frameworks for governance and leadership, such as the King IV report. We highlight core ethical principles such as sustainable development, integrity, and accountability. We further consider that value propositions must not narrowly focus on value to stakeholders, but also to broader systems. The discussion then narrows to the application of ethics to the specifics of CE. We apply the “four principles” of Beauchamp and Childress (non-maleficence, beneficence, justice, and autonomy), considering each of these principles in turn. We discuss their application in practical terms to university CE initiatives. Finally, we consider the way forward in relation to the integration of these ethical imperatives into higher education CE policies and processes. Recommendations include: the inclusion of ethical frameworks in CE policies of universities; the establishment of ethics committees/forums to guide CE; and the need to heighten ethical consciousness among CE practitioners.

Author Biographies

Jacqueline Scheepers, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Jacqueline Scheepers
Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Units, Cape Peninsula University of Technology,
Bellville, South Africa

Lloyd Christopher, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Lloyd Denzil Christopher
Department of Emergency Medical Sciences, Cape Peninsula University of Technology,
Bellville, South Africa

Stephen Harrison, Harrison Law

Stephen Harrison
Private Attorney, Harrison Law, Cape Town, South Africa


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How to Cite

Scheepers, J., Christopher, L., & Harrison, S. (2023). Ethical imperatives in community engagement. African Journal of Higher Education Community Engagement, 1(1), 1–19.