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At the beginning of this millennium it was becoming clear that there was a global trend toward greater engagement of universities with their communities, characterized by systemic efforts to mobilize the expertise and person power of these institutions to address pressing societal needs. However, there was limited international coordination and exchange on such issues among the heads of universities.

In 2005, Tufts University contributed to remedying this gap by holding the first international conference of university heads to explore the engagement and social responsibility roles of higher education institutions. Held at the Tufts European Center in the alpine village of Talloires, France, the conference brought together 29 university presidents, rectors, and vice chancellors from 23 countries around the world. Convened by then Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow, the conference was organized by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts and by Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP).

Although the conference participants represented starkly different contexts and types of universities, they found that they embraced very similar visions and strategic orientations. Discussions centered on ways to tap into the unrealized potential of universities and their students to tackle pressing problems in their societies, and on forging a collective vision for advancing the field of community engagement in higher education worldwide.  Participants drafted and co-signed the Talloires Declaration on the Civic Roles and Social Responsibilities of Higher Education.

Since its founding in 2005, the Network has grown to over 310 member institutions in 72 countries, with a combined student enrollment of over 6 million.

From 2005 to 2011, Tisch College at Tufts and ICP worked together to provide secretariat services for the Network and to foster its development. From its start, development of the Network and its expanding programs was guided by a steering committee of higher education leaders from around the world. Today, the Network’s secretariat is based at Tufts University and ICP directs the Network’s Professional Development Institute.