HOW GOOD IS HIGHER EDUCATION AT LISTENING TO THOSE OUTSIDE ACADEME?
Universities must learn to Listen / Escuchar better – this was the recurring message from the conference…..
This is the first of a series of posts on the 2013 Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) Conference on university engagement, and the range of issues it addressed
335 delegates from over 60 countries considered this and similar questions at a landmark conference on the university engagement mission, hosted by the UNESCO-funded Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) in a city widely recognised for its innovation, Barcelona.
Paulina Gonzalez-Pose, Chief of HE at UNESCO enthused about the new opportunities for HE brought by immense recent technological change, while van Langenhove urged a shift from technical innovation to social innovation, noting that whilst technology brings benefits for democracy, it also creates new problems. We need to open up universities to local and international communities and we need new measures of value and alternatives to GDP if HE is to tackle the major global challenges effectively, he urged.
Exhorting universities to rise to this challenge to help society address its problems, Federico Moran Abad, from Spain’s Ministry of Education, warned against complacency: we must be careful not to emulate the frog that sits oblivious in the pan of water on the cooker, as it becomes slowly, imperceptibly but disastrously cooked!
These opening remarks were a sound introduction to the recurring themes of the conference as a whole, which was underpinned by a sort of GUNI ‘manifesto’ for Community University Engagement addressing 7 key issues.
While much of the momentum driving this conference was provided by the global community university engagement movement and concept of the university as environmentally responsible res publica, as embodied in the Talloires Declaration, a consensus on a much broader definition of engagement than ‘community engagement’ – i.e. to include business, both private and public sector – emerged as the conference developed (of which more later).
The conference was held in frequently alternating English and Spanish; translation devices were provided but those with even a basis in Spanish (and vice-versa) found it better to manage without, so as to avoid disrupting the flow.
Cristina Escrigas, Executive Director of GUNI, initiated the conference sessions reminding us of the importance of the listening theme; now, in HE, we have an opportunity to listen to the world. Rajesh Tandon summarised why we need to listen- e.g. around 20% of the world population live on less than $1.25 per day; youth unemployment in Europe is becoming epidemic, e.g. 50% in Spain; the world’s richest 20% command 75% of the world’s income. Ever-increasing strain on diminishing natural resources and continued inter-human conflict add to the challenges.
‘Building the world we imagine’, as the session was rather grandly titled, involves using transformative HE in the service of addressing these challenges. HE has a key role to play, indeed a fundamental responsibility in the new knowledge democracy needed, in new models for measuring well-being, in developing standards for interdependence rather than exploitation, in reconceptualising what constitutes progress, and measures thereof. But, as Bud Hull reminded us, to live up to this responsibility, HE needs to transform itself. We need to avoid separating academia and civil society; we need to review the ‘mono-culture’ of the ‘rational-scientific approach’ to knowledge; HE needs to broaden its concept of knowledge to achieve collective impact.