Universities Must Move beyond the Classroom to Become Agents for Social Change
On the occasion of the 93rd birthday celebrations of one of the most fervent and respected voices for social justice and human rights, this call by Jos[c] Villasante, Director of the Global Division of Santander Universities, at the recent university Leaders Conference in Madrid, sounds like a natural extension of Nelson Mandela's words: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Leaders of more than 200 universities and philanthropic institutions from 60 countries gathered under the umbrella of the Talloires Network of Tufts University in the US, a global alliance of higher education institutions committed to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of universities and colleges.
The main discussion point was how to build the engaged university - moving away from the ivory tower to become agents of social change.
In the words of one of the delegates: "To change the world is not a question of madness, but one of justice[bar] and universities have a key role to play in inventing futures shaped by social commitment, civic engagement and external responsiveness to the needs of communities."
This is a significant debate, highlighting the imperative that higher education institutions worldwide should rethink their roles in society, given the demands of the socio-economic and political changes that have swept large parts of the globe in recent years.
South Africa recently celebrated its 17th year of democracy amidst a preponderance of civic and educational problems. The Arab Spring is still unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East.
Problems in the Eurozone are on-going, with political and economic strife becoming commonplace. And China, the second-largest economy in the world, is producing jobless university graduates by the thousand. Little wonder, then, that the disgruntled voices of the youth are reverberating across large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.
All of this should serve as a stark reminder to educational leaders that education can also be a source of social strife. As Reeta Roy, president of the MasterCard Foundation, put it at the conference: "Education without employment creates unrest."
She proposed that universities move beyond the classroom "in an effort to construct an ecosystem that connects higher education institutions, policymakers and industries in a way that will bridge students to the world, and enable them to engage in multiple levels of the economy".
The key is that curricula should be relevant and aligned with the needs of society. Universities are well placed to assist with the challenges of transition. …