The glocal multiversity: new roles and emerging challenges for human and social development

LLOBERA, Josep; ESCRIGAS, Cristina

In this article, Josep Lobera and Cristina Escrigas reflect upon the universities’ new roles, so that they can face human and social challenges, beyond the paradigm of "ivory tower" or "market-oriented university".

Since their origin in the twelfth century, universities have been central institutions, often called to perform essential functions in their social context (Altbach, 2008). Throughout history, they have changed their roles and functions in a continuous adaptation to the different contexts of society, not without certain conflicts and resistances. The new challenges that arise in our global society, including sustainability and intercultural dialogue, lead us to rethink new missions for universities and their linkages with the rest of society. Nevertheless, a critical review of the processes shaping the human development agendas would suggest that the university has been mostly follower of this discourse, rather than its creator or a proactive agent (Tandon, 2008). To face the new challenges, the university should be a space of thought, reflection and action, committed to local and global challenges, open to the public and cooperating with other universities on a global scale.

 
This article is based on a collective work on “Higher Education in the World 3. Higher Education: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development” (GUNI, 2008) and it was presented at the World Civic Forum 2009, in Seoul (Korea). Our aim is to enrich the vision on the relevant social role that higher education is called upon to play in the emerging challenges for human and social development in its different activities (research, teaching, management and extension).
 
 
THE MULTIVERSITY CHALLENGE
The history of the university is the story of its reform, from the universitas magistrorum et scholarium, community of teachers and students, to the multiversity, institution composed of various communities, often in separate compartments overspecialized. The concept of “multiversity” goes back to Clark Kerr’s book The Uses of the University (1963) who pointed out that the idea of a community of scholars dedicated to knowledge for its own sake had ceased to exist. Kerr (1963) argued that the outstanding feature of the modern university was its strong internal differentiation and heterogeneity. In this way, in the second half of the 20th century, the “multiversity” came to challenge the “idea of the university” as classically developed by Wilhelm von Humboldt and Cardinal Newman in the 19th century (Krücken et al., 2007). While Kerr’s (1963) insights were limited to the regional and national embeddedness of the American research university, we can observe that there is a worldwide trend towards the multiversity being shaped by globalizing trends in higher education that are transforming national systems and individual university organizations alike (Krücken et al., 2007).
 
Today’s university has evolved towards that “knowledge factory” that Kerr (1963) predicted, with separated communities of knowledge establishing bridges with industrialists and donors, and with an increasing importance of professional training. These changes have led often to conflicts between the new realities and the values and ethos of a “uni-versity”: there is an increased danger of conflicting interests between the pursuit of knowledge and its commercialization; there has been a rise in specialization and fragmentation of learning and fewer opportunities to develop intra-community partnerships and collaborations among the academic disciplines; and, over all, there has been a sense of loss of community.
 
The multiversity has some challenges ahead related to the current context of knowledge. The compartmentalization of the university has been accompanied by an overspecialization of knowledge. As noted by Morin (1999), there is a mismatch increasingly large between “our discordant knowledges, sliced, embedded into disciplines”, and problems that are “increasingly multidisciplinary, cross-dimensional, transnational, global and planetary”. There are at least four key issues regarding the use and impact of knowledge in our societies that challenge multiversities: 1) the need of a deeper understanding of how we build knowledge; 2) linking different areas of knowledge to understand complex issues (inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches); 3) the integration of knowledge from diverse backgrounds (community-based research, indigenous knowledge, intercultural dialogue) and; 4) the ethical implications of scientific and technological research and its applications.
 
In the emerging knowledge society, boundaries between disciplines are blurred and we increasingly need to understand complex issues. Today’s universities can contribute to a systematic and proactive criticism, discerning between knowledge, information and ideology. They also have the task of developing critical discourses and analytical structures with which human societies can continually reflect on the products of their knowledge, science and technology.
 
THE CHALLENGE OF GLOCALITY
Higher education institutions, as well as the societies in which they operate, are currently undergoing a process of global transformation, in all contexts, although with specific characteristics in different parts of the world. Globalization has led to new opportunities but it has also clearly revealed the inequalities and the system limits. A key dynamic is the local-global relation; cosmopolitanism arises when the local contexts of interpretation are transformed in light of the encounter with the global. Universities are located in a space that is neither global nor national, as they involve the interaction of both. Therefore, they can be seen as having a particularly significant role to play as cosmopolitan agents of social change (Delanty, 2008). They are indeed glocal actors, in the sense used by Robertson (1995). They incorporate locality into the globalization processes and globalization into the local context. Thus, one of the challenges of the university today is to develop their role as a “glocal multiversity” by forging new links between different disciplines, between different types of knowledges, between global and local realities, open to the public and cooperating with other universities on a glocal context.
 
Universities are well positioned to help face local and global challenges on human and social development. Their roles need to be re-oriented towards human and social challenges, beyond the paradigm of "ivory tower" or "market-oriented university". Challenges such as peace, sustainability and intercultural dialogue need to be present in their core activities. In order to do so, the university should be a space for thought, reflection and action, committed to the local and global issues; it should be open to the public and cooperate in network with other universities on a global scale. This requires opening its doors to a dialogue with all social sectors.
 
DELPHI STUDY RESULTS
The results of a Delphi study to 214 experts from 80 countries show that the majority of experts worldwide agree that higher education should play an active role in human and social development (Lobera et al. 2008). The experts who were invited to participate in this study include higher education specialists; rectors and other university employees; public policy makers; and members of civil society involved in various different areas of development.
 
The results of this study show noticeable agreement on the priority challenges that human and social development poses for higher education, particularly within each region. The main challenges identified as priorities include poverty reduction, sustainable development, the inclusion of critical thinking and ethical values in the globalization process, and the improvement of governability and participative democracy.
 
Figure-1. Most frequently identified challenges for human and social development.
Source: (Lobera et al. 2008). Delphi Poll: Higher education for human and social development, en: GUNI (ed.), Higher Education in the World: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan, Londres.
 
Nevertheless, there were major disagreements on the most appropriate measures for confronting these challenges. Most of the proposals indicate that more dialogue is needed with the rest of society to discover what kind of university it wants. Thus, universities can be adapted locally; i.e. become more socially relevant. In the second round of the poll, in which participants were given feedback of their colleagues’ responses, some convergence was seen in the measures expressed. Three measures were expressed by almost 50 per cent of the experts:
- include the environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainability in the curricula of all students, in research, and in the institutional activity of universities (curricular reform);
- improve the training of teaching staff, both in contents and pedagogy, so that human and social development challenges are included in academic activity;
- increase public funding for higher education.
 
The majority of experts consider that universities are central to the knowledge society. They refer to its historic function of creating, preserving and disseminating knowledge. Likewise, the experts show their concern for the future role of universities in a society where an increasing number of agents are in a position to influence the production and dissemination of knowledge. The experts suggest that universities should facilitate dialogue and collaboration with other sectors of society, particularly with the new agents that are linked with information and knowledge management. This will ensure the public access to the knowledge that is essential for human and social development.
 
CONCLUSIONS
At a time of global changes, the universities’ roles must be re-oriented towards human and social challenges, beyond the paradigm of "ivory tower" or "market-oriented university". Although they haven been mostly follower of this discourse, rather than their creator or a proactive agent, the majority of experts consulted worldwide agree that higher education institutions should play an active role in human and social development.
 
Universities are located in a space that is neither global nor national, as they involve the interaction of both. Its glocal position is key to help face local and global challenges on human and social development. Furthermore, the university must recognize its internal diversity formed by separated communities of knowledge. In order to exploit the potential of its various communities, multiversities must extend bridges of cooperation between different groups, developing inter- and transdisciplinary projects, and integrating knowledge from diverse backgrounds (community-based research, indigenous knowledge, intercultural dialogue, etc.).
 
Their vision and mission need to be re-oriented towards the creation and distribution of socially relevant knowledge and complex understanding of reality, strengthening their social responsibility contributing thought knowledge, to a harmonious global development. These goals can only be attained through proactiveness and anticipation. In order to anticipate future needs, universities must shift from ivory towers to watch towers. Thus, institutions need to throw open their doors and establish a dialogue that constitutes an effective framework for relationships with all social sectors.

 
REFERENCES
1.     Altbach, P., The complex roles of universities in the period of globalization, in: GUNI (ed.), Higher Education in the World: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan, London.
2.     Delanty, G., The university and cosmopolitan citizenship, in: GUNI (ed.), Higher Education in the World: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan, London.
3.     GUNI (ed.), Higher Education in the World: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan, London.
4.     Kerr, C., The Uses of the University, 1963, Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row.
5.     Krücken, G., Kosmützky, A., Torka, M. (eds.): Towards a Multiversity? Universities between global trends and national traditions, 2007, Bielefeld.
6.     Lobera, J., Crespo, N., GUNI Secretariat, Delphi Poll: Higher education for human and social development, 2008, in: GUNI (ed.), Higher Education in the World: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan, London.
7.     Morin, E., La tête bien faite, 1999, Le Seuil, Paris.
8.     Robertson, R. Glocalization: Time-Space and Homogeneity-Heterogeneity. In: Featherstone, M.; Lash, S.; Robertson, R. (eds.), Global Modernities, Sage, London, 1995, 25-44
9.     Tandon, R., Civil engagement in higher education and its role in human and social development, in: GUNI (ed.), Higher Education in the World: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

About the author

Josep Lobera was researcher at GUNI until September 2009 and is currently lecturer at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Cristina Escrigas is Executive Director of GUNI.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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