The GUNi Report is lauched in the Conference "Active Academia: A Catalyst for Societal Change" (Oxford, UK)
On 25-26 March over seventy PhD candidates from the Middle East, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and South Asia met at Pembroke College (Oxford University) for a conference organised by the Open Society Scholarship Programs, entitled ‘Active Academia: A Catalyst for Societal Change’.
The gathering encouraged debate of the role of humanities and the social sciences in transforming society, the potential for universities to contribute to global development, and how research can inform processes of policy change. Also on the agenda were the tensions between research, policy and social change agendas, and obstacles to challenging academic orthodoxies, particularly in contexts of political constraint.
Leading thinkers in the field opened the conference by offering theoretical and experiential perspectives. In a thought-provoking keynote speech, Dr Seteney Shami of the Arab Council for Social Sciences examined the role of the social sciences in the wider social and political changes taking place in the Arab region. Arguing that “new times call for new knowledge”, she emphasised the importance of support for academic infrastructure such as Arabic language journals, university libraries and networks.
Professor Budd Hall, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, launched the recently-published GUNi Report Higher Education in the World 5, setting out an action agenda for involving universities in processes of social change. Professor David Watson, one of the world’s foremost scholars of higher education, highlighted social responsibility in higher education and shifting conceptions of university-community engagement. And offering a unique perspective, Professor Jo Boyden of the Young Lives study of childhood poverty at the University of Oxford, reflected on working with researchers, civil society and governments across four countries.
Through interactive workshops, delegates were encouraged to apply these ideas to questions in their own fields and home contexts. How can universities build partnerships with their communities? How can academics strengthen their engagement with policy and practice? And what’s the potential of blogging as a research communication tool? In a series of roundtable discussions, participants also drew on their own experiences of working to expand access to justice, advance equality in health and education, and promote heterodox approaches in the social sciences and humanities.
For the Open Society Foundations - a global network dedicated to improving the lives of people in marginalized communities and supporting efforts to create more just and open societies - academic research is a key resource. As an example of OSF’s partnerships with academia, Dr Rebekah Delsol of the Open Society Justice Initiative and Oxford University criminologist Dr Ben Bradford reflected on their collaboration in tackling ethnic profiling in stop and search practices by police in the UK and Western Europe. Open Society Foundation-Albania director Andi Dobrushi and GSGP alumnus Dr Fabian Zhilla also discussed their collaboration on research into judicial corruption.
Ending the conference on an inspirational note, a University of Yangon delegation discussed the role of academia in contexts of national transition, describing the revival of their university after years of closure, and the role of OSF scholarships and support for higher education institutions in Myanmar.
Tom Wilson & Helen Murray