In recent years, public engagement attention is drawn towards university institutions since the role of universities is projected towards the sharing and spreading of knowledge beyond the traditional academic bounds. Thus, the university is becoming a “partner” that collaborates at the community's growth, and debates with all the stakeholders who might have an interest, either direct or indirect, in the university’s activity. However, a systematization of the public engagement in higher institutions is still lacking. The aim of this paper is to advance the study of university public engagement construct through the analysis of research published in the main journals in the ambit of three disciplinary areas: communication, marketing and public management. A systematic literature review was used to select the main articles from these subject areas. Coding a selection of articles from these disciplines it is been possible to deepen the public engagement concept. The results show that public engagement is an umbrella term that covers a range of strategies and activities, which potentially come from different ideological standpoints. Five coherent definitions-in-practice emerged in the literature review: set of activities; process; communication tool; strategy; and approach. Moreover, this research presents some progresses in understanding the variables that intervene in the conceptual and methodological definition of public engagement from an inter-disciplinary perspective and the major benefits of an effective use of public engagement in the higher education management.
Key words: Public engagement, civic engagement, community engagement, systematic literature review, higher education.