6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education


The 6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education: “Let’s build transformative knowledge to drive social change”, organized by the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi), will take place on 12-15, May 2013.

Conference background

We are living through a crisis of scale, a crisis that affects all systems and that requires a new understanding of reality and human progress, and a new conscience that supports a new way of being in the world. We have the challenge to add the global scale in an effective manner, which entails being able to deal with the pressing global issues, while integrating the several existing levels of local governance. This implies new paradigms of thought and action that have to be sustainable and overcome the undesired effects of the old models. In short, humanity is facing the challenge to find a new way to organize itself in all areas of activity.

The way the world will evolve in the long term will depend on all of the responses that we will be able to articulate in the present and near future (Xercavins, 2008). In this matter, we consider knowledge to be a key element, and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have a central role in its creation and its social use. It is important for HEIs to become, consciously and intentionally, analysts of the big changes that are happening, and of the possible initiatives in shaping, anticipating, intervening and guiding these changes towards another possible world (Xercavins, 2008).

In this moment in history, the perception of truth and the comprehension of what things are are largely given to science. The knowledge we value and the knowledge we manage -just a small part of the generated knowledge-, is at the basis of how we understand reality and how we live. It is science itself that today is bringing new paradigms of understanding of reality that challenge the foundations on which we have supported contemporary societies.

Now is the moment to widen the scope of knowledge, education and research in society, and to move beyond creating socio-economic well-being towards the transformation of society as a whole and the creation of a sustainable global community through a true knowledge-based society. This should be done in engagement with citizenry as a whole, at all scales of activity (GUNi, 2009).

Knowledge must contribute to society by incorporating sustainability shift paradigms. We need to connect different kinds and sources of knowledge and facilitate understanding between different cultures, while forging links between knowledge and citizenship. It is necessary to break the conformity of thought by proactively criticizing the world of ideas, in order to move forward towards creative and innovative ways of thinking that allow imagining new realities and ways of living. Knowledge could help in ethical awareness and facilitate the civic commitment of people and professionals. It is an important moment to look deeper at the social and environmental implications of the advancement of knowledge, and to increase the resources invested in analyzing the impact of science and technology in society. Knowledge is also linked with democracy, citizenship, intercultural relations, recognition of interdependence, new approaches to health and well-being, rights, mutual comprehension, peace-building and a deep understanding of life’s dynamics.

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of concepts such as “engaged scholarship” (Boyer, 1990), “engaged University” (Watson et al, 2011), “Community Based Research” (Strand et al, 2003a/b), Community University Research Partnerships (Hall et al, 2011), “Public Engagement in Higher Education” (NCCPE, 2010), and more. All of these concepts are related to the new considerations about creation and use of knowledge in society, broadening the idea of its social impact.

The concept of engagement needs to be redefined with newer and deeper content that goes beyond what is often called the ‘third mission’ of universities; it is about valuing knowledge (Innerarity, 2011).

In the present formulation, institutions of higher education are expected to serve three missions: teaching, research and service. The mission of ‘service’ is mostly seen as being independent from teaching and research. In operational terms, primacy is attached to the teaching and research functions of HEIs; ‘service’ is undertaken afterwards. Many connotations of ‘service’ tend to assume that knowledge and expertise available to HEIs will be transferred to communities and thus help them to address their problems. No assumption is made on the fact that community engagement may, sometimes, contribute to improvements in HEIs, especially to their teaching and research functions.

Conference aims & contents

The 6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education and the 5th GUNi Report are focused on Knowledge, Engagement & Higher Education. They will analyze how to build transformative knowledge to drive social change. In exploring this contemporary issue, the Report and the Conference will attempt to describe how it is evolving nowadays, and will propose to go beyond the narrow and compartmentalized approach to engagements of higher education by offering new visions and ways for the future.

In the 6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, GUNi aims to approach the challenge of engagements by HEIs in the larger society in an integrated manner; it hopes to be able to explore ways in which engagement enhances teaching, learning and research (knowledge production, mobilization and dissemination); and it intends to approach engagement in ways that accept the multiple sites of knowledge creation, as well as the reciprocity and mutuality in learning and educating through engagement.

The Conference will look at our changing understanding about who the agents of knowledge creation are, and how the creation, distribution and use of knowledge are linked to our aspirations for a better world.  It will offer us elements of a vision for a renewed and socially responsible relationship between higher education (HE), knowledge, and society. It will also take into account the current conceptualization of the role of higher education in the process of knowledge production.

In this sense, one aim of the Conference is to call upon policy-makers, leaders and practitioners of HEIs around the world to ‘rethink’ social responsibilities of higher education and to become a part of a hub of societal innovation. We aim to move towards a more just, equitable and sustainable planet over the next decades. Thus, the Conference hopes to present experiences and ideas that suggest directions for transformation of higher education (and its diverse institutions) to exercise its social responsibility to citizens and societies locally and globally.

The other aim of the Conference is to provide visibility and to critically examine one of the most significant trends in higher education over the past 10-15 years: the growth of the theory and practice of engagement as a key feature in the evolution of higher education.

Facilitating socially engaged universities is paramount to the necessary creation of knowledge. The practices and structures of engagement are rich and continually evolving. Some scholars speak of a Community-University Engagement movement (Talloires; Holland, 2005), of service learning (Campus Compact; McIlraath and Mac labhrainn, 2007), of community-based research (Strand et al, 2003a/b), of engaged scholarship (Boyer, 1996; Fitzgerald et al, 2012), of community-university research partnerships (Hart et al, 2007; Hall, 2011), and of knowledge mobilization and its variants, such as knowledge translation, impact or utilization (Levesque, 2010, blog).

At the Conference, we will stimulate serious and profound thought, which will open opportunities that should be jointly analyzed, discussed and hopefully used by academics, university leaders, policy makers, members of civil society and the business community.

The Conference will provide a space for:

  1. Presenting and discussing a current territorial and thematic map about how higher education institutions are advancing in engagement with society in the different world regions. Presenting initiatives on different practices, mechanisms and structures. Showing differences and similarities within the several world regions, and illustrating peculiarities among countries.
  2. Deepening the current analysis on the relationship between knowledge, engagement and higher education. Advancing community university engagement around the world.
    1. Debating how higher education institutions can go beyond the third mission and foster the integration of community university engagement in teaching, research and institutional activities, through the presentation of experiences and poster sessions.
    2. Discussing on how higher education institutions can foster their link with their community at local, national, regional and global levels, giving an answer to society’s needs.
    3. Presenting the latest research that analyzes worldwide experiences and presents typologies of engagement practices for improving the teaching and learning processes, the quality of research, and the response to society’s needs.
    4. Offering tools for higher education practitioners through examples of good practices, innovations, relevant experiences, and/or projects to move forward community university engagement along with the opportunity of networking.
    5. Creating a forum for dialogue by working with international renowned experts, practitioners and networks on community university engagement to reflect, analyze and share experiences. Gathering and disseminating the results of this work through the report Higher Education in the World 5.

GUNi invites the international academic community to actively participate in the Conference in an open space to share and learn together, with the conviction that it is by taking action that we can improve real changes in education and enlarge the transformative awareness of our societies.


  • Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. (The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Boyer, E. (1996) The Scholarship of engagement, Bulletin of the American Arts and Sciences, 49(7), pp 18-33.
  • Campus Compact web site http://www.compact.org/
  • Fitzgerald, Hiram, Karen Bruns, Steven T. Sonka, Andrew Furco,  Louis Swanson (2012)“The Centrality of Engagement in Higher Education” in Journal of Higher EducationOutreach and Engagement, 2012, 16(3).
  • GUNi (2009) Higher Education at a Time of Transformation: New Dynamics for Social Responsibility. London; Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Hall, B. et al (2011) “Towards a Knowledge Democracy Movement: Contemporary Trends in Community University Research Partnerships” in Special Issue of Rizoma Freireano on “Global Developments in Community University Research Partnerships. Vol 9.
  • Hart, A., Maddisson, E. and Wolff, D. (2007) Community-university partnerships in practice. Leicester, UK: National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education.
  • Holland, B. (2005). Scholarship and Mission in the 21st Century University: The Role of Engagement Keynote Address to the Australian Universities Quality Agency Forum, 5 July, Sydney Australia.
  • Innerarity, D. (2011) La Democracia del Conocimiento. Por una Sociedad Inteligente, Barcelona, Editorial Planeta.
  • Levesque (2010) knowledge Mobilization (Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/zbPyME).
  • McIlrath, L. & Mac Labhrainn, I. (Eds.) (2007) Higher Education and Civic Engagement: International Perspectives. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
  • NCCPE (National Coordinating Committee for Public Engagement in Higher Education) (2010) The Engaged University: Manifesto for Public Engagement, Bristol, UK: NCCPE.
  • Strand, K., & Marullo, S., Cutforth, N., Stoecker, R., & Donohue, P. (2003a) Principles of Best Practice for Community-Based Research. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 9(3), 5–15.
  • Strand, K.J., Cutforth, N., Stoecker, R., Marullo, S., & Donahue, P. (2003b). Community-based Research and Higher Education: Principles and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Talloires Network web site - http://www.tufts.edu/talloiresnetwork/.
  • Watson et al (2011) Watson, D, Hollister, R, Stroud, S., & Babcock, E. (2011). The Engaged University: International Perspectives on Civic Engagement. London: Routledge.
  • Xercavins, J. (2008) Higher Education and its institutions and the civilizational paradigm crisis: reflections, analysis and proposals from the perspective of a forum of international civil society organizations, in: GUNi (2008) Higher Education in the World 3. Higher Education: New Challenges and Emerging Roles for Human and Social Development. London; Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 35-39.


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government