Why Higher Education should pay attention to Social Responsibility Now?

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There was a time when higher education was an elite privilege in many countries around the world; in the period of low literacy, secondary education was considered generally adequate; even in developed economies, most people went to work after high school. Post-secondary educational opportunities were fewer, somewhat exclusive and expensive. Public provision of higher education was strong and clear, yet narrow merit-based selection criteria limited its access.

With global shifts in economic development and human aspirations in the past two decades, access to higher education has been demanded by a broader section of society; new avocations and professional possibilities have made many people realise the value of post-secondary education; the thrust on knowledge economy is making acquisition of state-of-the-art knowledge a growing requirement for professional success; shifting nature of economy is pushing mid-career workers to learn new skills and competencies to adjust to those realities.

In such a scenario, both the demand and supply of higher education has increased; new providers in the private sector have come in; new partnerships between industry and university have been forged; the world of practice and the world of academia are coming together to develop new post_contents and pedagogies; the explosion of IT is making distance education accessible to a vast numbers of learners.

A growing question in this context is the relevance and contributions of higher education, not just to the individual, but also to society at large; how values of justice, equity and respect for diversity are being reinforced in the institutions of higher education? How are new generation of learners from socially diverse communities learning to study, live and work together? How research and teaching in such institutions takes into account the social contexts and dynamics? How knowledge as a heritage of humanity respected from diverse sources and modalities? How the very ways of working of institutions of higher education support the principles of sustainability? How higher education can promote and reinforce ethics?

Those of us interested in exploring such and related issues can now have a global platform for being together. Global University Network for Innovations (GUNI) is convening an international conference on the theme of “Knowledge, Engagement and Higher Education: Rethinking Social Responsibility” at Barcelona during May 11-13, 2013. The conference is being organised as a space for sharing, reflecting and advocating various approaches, principles and challenges related to this set of themes. It is designed to listen to good practices; it invites students of higher education to share their visions of the same. It is especially inviting practitioners and civil society actors to engage with this space and contribute to this conversation from their vantage points. http://sites.guninetwork.org/conference/mail_promo1.html

The GUNI Report on this theme will set the standard for the next decade, and contain a set of practical examples and recommendations that may have relevance in the coming period in respect of issues of social responsibility in higher education.

I hope many of you, especially from the civil society, and those working in non-metro locations, will participate in the GUNI conference. I look forward to learning from you.

Rajesh Tandon

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