The purpose of this study is to inform global citizenship practice as a higher education agenda by comparing the retrospective experiences of a range of community engagement partners and including often silent voices of non-researcher partners. Higher education–community engagement aims to contribute to social justice as it constructs and transfers new knowledge from the perspectives of a wide range of community engagement partners. This qualitative secondary analysis study was framed theoretically by the transformative–emancipatory paradigm. Existing case data, generated on retrospective experiences of community engagement partners in a long-term community engagement partnership, were conveniently sampled to analyse and compare a range of community engagement experiences (parents of student clients (n = 12: females 10, males 2), teachers from the partner rural school (n = 18: females 12, males 6), student-educational psychology clients (n = 31: females 14, males 17), Academic Service-Learning (ASL) students (n = 20: females 17, males 3) and researchers (n = 12: females 11, males 1). Following thematic in-case and cross-case analysis, it emerged that all higher education–community engagement partners experienced that socio-economic challenges (defined as rural school adversities, include financial, geographic and social challenges) are addressed when an higher education–community engagement partnership exists, but that particular operational challenges (communication barriers, time constraints, workload and unclear scope, inconsistent feedback, as well as conflicting expectations) hamper higher education–community engagement partnership. A significant insight from this study is that a range of community engagement partners experience similar challenges when a university and rural school partner. All community engagement partners experienced that higher education–community engagement is challenged by the structural disparity between the rural context and operational miscommunication.