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GUNi 2013 Conference Highlights
The 6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education (HE), "Let's build transformative knowledge to drive social change", held in Barcelona from 13th to 15th May 2013, gathered more than 325 participants from about 60 countries. In this article we present the main outcomes of the Conference.
The 6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education (HE), "Let's build transformative knowledge to drive social change", held in Barcelona from 13th to 15th May 2013, gathered more than 325 participants from about 60 countries. More on GUNi Conference general outcomes [here]
The following are brief articles on the main issues debated at the conference. All materials, proceedings, videos, posters and good practices, as well as the complete programme and information on the speakers, can be found [here].
The grand global challenges and the transformation to sustainable societies. Global communiqué of the “Big Tent” group meeting and five side-events related to community-university engagement
The day before the conference began in earnest, the “Big Tent” group meeting was held, the aim of which was to discuss the global communiqué on higher education in the context of the great global challenges and transformation to sustainable societies. The global communiqué [pdf], the fourth in a series of global dialogues facilitated by the “Big Tent” group of global community-university engagement networks, was led by the Living Knowledge Network over a period of four months, from February to May 2013. The guiding thread of the discussion was: How can the necessary social, scientific and technological innovations in small communities, in municipalities or councils be brought to people's minds to a level at which they really can contribute to comprehensive social change, to the 'Great Transformation'? The ‘Big Tent’ group involved in the development and dissemination of the fourth global communiqué comprised the following 13 networks and organizations:
The global communiqué was released on 15th May at the closing session by Lean Chan from Malaysia and Nobert Steinhaus from Germany. It should be understood as a means of facilitating the embedding of social responsibility and community-based research in the research and higher education system. The communiqué is owned by all who share its values and objectives and is to be shared widely.
Five side-events related to community-university engagement
The conference started with five side-events in which global and regional networks met their members for debate around issues and strategies related to community-university engagement.
>More information about the parallel side-events can be found at:
Opening session: the welcome address
The welcome address was chaired by Antoni Giró, rector of the UPC and president of GUNi, and included Federico Morán Abad from the Government of Spain, David Malone and Luk Van Langenhove from the United Nations University (UNU), Paulina Gonzalez-Pose from UNESCO and Andreu Mas Colell from the Government of Catalonia. Antoni Giró said his first words of thanks to the directors, university presidents and all the attendees from around the world for supporting the initiative with their presence. He also welcomed Prof. Budd Hall and Prof. Rajesh Tandon, who are the guest editors of the forthcoming 5th GUNi Report. Giró took this opportunity to re-announce that this conference is also part of the process of discussing the new GUNi Report, "Knowledge, Engagement & Higher Education: Contributing to Social Change". [more +]
GUNi President message
|From learning to read reality to building the world we imagine|
Budd Hall, from Canada, Cristina Escrigas, from Spain, and Rajesh Tandon, from India, as representatives of the organizing institutions of the conference, talked in a relaxed way about the current global reality and the need to face openly its links to HE systems. The underpinning idea is that there is a need to reinvent all systems that organize life at all levels, i.e. economic, social and political, and to respond to new needs, overcoming the limitations and undesirable side effects of the models that we have used up to now. To this end, we should urgently and seriously consider priorities in the generation, dissemination and use of knowledge in our societies.
As Escrigas and Tandon pointed out, “At this point in history, education and knowledge resources are much more available than ever before. Science and technology have seen spectacular advances and educational attainment rates worldwide have reached historic highs. However, humanity’s two major conflicts remain unresolved: one resulting from human coexistence, and the other associated with the relationship between humans and the natural environment”.
“We are facing a crisis of scale that is showing a new paradigm for understanding life on earth: interdependence. Let’s say we form a single earth ecosystem and that means we are interdependent in all systems and levels.” In addition, “The post-industrial development model does not work anymore as it is not extensible eider sustainable. The oversized dimension of the economic variable, built on consumption and material possession, fails to meet the aspirations of human happiness and well-being.”
They conclude that these two issues together change the way we have understood reality until now. It implies new paradigms of thought and action for humanity to move forward and it also changes the demand for higher education, which has been too focused on the short term and too oriented towards economic value.
They highlighted that we know that “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. They suggested that we need to reinvent ourselves as a society and how we organize ourselves, and that we must integrate the emerging idea of social innovation and revise the conception of what human progress is. They stated that HE is “feeding an outdated system”. It was also said that learning to read reality we can say that “In terms of social responsibility, higher education’s greatest challenge in the coming years is to contribute to building a sustainable future for humanity and for the planet.”
Building the world we imagine
Later on, an unusual performance began. The session in which it took place was centred on the assumption that we must reconsider the world that we are creating, and that education has a big intergenerational responsibility in building the world that we imagine, want and deserve.
“We are key players in the model of civilization. Education has a big intergenerational responsibility. This responsibility consists in giving to people the baggage of the past and preparing them to live in the present and to be critical, open-minded and creative to build a better world. It is about new ways of knowing and learning and going beyond educating professionals to educating citizens in ethical awareness and civic commitment.”
The paradigm must be shifted from disconnection, individual competitiveness, economic profitability and a short-term focus towards enthusiasm, cooperation, individual and social responsibility for the common good and long-term sustainable development. It is about new ways of knowing and learning how to be human.
The session presented fresh and innovative ideas and views from students and civil society, with the aim of sharing everyone’s imagined world. It was based on a GUNi call for videos launched several months before the conference. GUNi invited students from around the world to submit two- or three-minute videos interpreting the statement and their views on the world we imagine. They feature innovative and creative responses to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Based on the material GUNi received, a performance was written that was played by actors and drama students. The performance started with five short theatre pieces, combined with videos of students from around the world, that brought messages of hope and that described the world that they want and imagine. At the end of the performance the actors created a wall with boxes where the word Imagine appeared.
Following that, the chair Jesus Granados and Bruno Jayme from Brazil engaged the audience with an unexpected activity: all the boxes were passed to the attendees for them to express, by drawing and writing in the boxes, their wishes and commitments for the world they imagined. As a result of the activity, a new wall was created featuring the leitmotiv of the conference: “Be knowledgiastic”. GUNi suggested this new term to designate an attitude of being. “Being knowledgiastic is to show enthusiasm about and actively encourage the co-creation of transformative knowledge”. Being “knowledgiastic” implies respect for the diversity of knowledge ecologies and a dynamic curriculum and pedagogy that gives centrality to the societal challenges of our times.
Why is engagement critical for social change?
This session was chaired by Axel Didriksson from Mexico, who is also the current GUNi regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. The panel participants were Dzulkifli Razak from Malaysia, Robert Hollister from the USA and Shirley Walters from South Africa.
Engagement is a key to breaking the conformity of thought by proactively criticizing the world of ideas and transforming the paradigms and beliefs on how we organize our community that are established in social systems. Engagement is central for the creation of a new citizenship. It is also a key to moving towards political decision making and development, informing political decisions that affect large segments of the population or that are related to collective well-being.
Engagement is not just an idea but a set of practical actions, which necessarily entails struggles for change and transformation that require altering current social structures and power relations. The challenge for higher education institutions (HEIs) is to analyse why, for what and how community-university engagement (CUE) takes place, to ensure a positive social process of transformation, and to approach it in an integrated manner, in which engagement enhances teaching and research. The session was developed as a dialogue among the panellists around these key issues.
|Building partnerships: making cooperation mainstream|
Barbara Ibrahim from Egypt and Mike Osborne from the United Kingdom entered into a conversation on partnerships, as it is a central aspect in developing community engagement initiatives that deal with the issues of people. A partnership is a way of being and a way of working with others that implies mutual understanding, common good, reciprocity, collaboration in decision making and transparency regarding outcomes. The primary purpose of CUE partnerships is to strengthen democratic principles and practices in society, in order to address systemic and complex common challenges. All of the members of the partnership have their own knowledge, expertise and agency and they contribute to shaping the collective agenda. This allows the contributions of all the partners to be defined, recognized and valued.
The aim of the session was to reflect upon three main questions: What kind of partnerships do we need? What features do successful partnerships have? How can we mainstream cooperation and participation? In the dialogue, Ibrahim and Osborne talked from their areas of expertise and how they are related to the issue of cooperation in different contexts such as the Arab Spring, the role of public administration, the case of learning cities and how to build partnerships within and for the territory.
The plenary session was followed by four parallel workshops chaired by Joanna Ochocka, Canada; Andrew Furco, USA; Lorlene Hoyt, USA; and Carlos Cortez, Mexico. The parallel workshops were aimed at answering a specific question: “If we want partnerships to guarantee a desirable and successful relationship among partners that enables real participation, mutuality, a shared leadership and power relations, what are the key elements and values that must underpin them?”
This question took the discussion towards key challenges for building successful partnerships, such as: How to achieve a high level of involvement of all partners? How are trust developed and communication managed? What about motivation, responsibility and ownership? Is there a mutual understanding and a common language? How are shared leadership and power relations articulated? Is there transparency regarding outcomes and impact in each participant? Are the activities of the partnership evaluated? Is the partnership adjusting and growing as it evolves over time, taking into account the replacement of people and the shifting of goals? Does the initiative have a sustainability plan for its continued existence?
Good practices on community-university engagement
At the conference more than 67 good practices and 93 posters based on experiences were presented. The sessions were classified according the different ways or typologies of engagement: community-based research and science shops; engaged scholarship; knowledge mobilization; academic enterprise; and service learning.
To access all the presentations follow this link:
To see the poster gallery:
Enlarging the conception of knowledge
Chaired by Cristina Escrigas, the participants were François Vallaeys from France, Jesús Granados from Spain, Lean Chan from Malaysia, Manuel Ramiro Muñoz from Colombia and Paul Wangoola from Uganda.
The aim of the session was to rethink what we understand by knowledge and its role in society. It was assumed that knowledge is not complete and no longer produced exclusively by and consumed within universities. In this context, there is an emerging task for HEIs to become cosmopolitan centres of global culture by building bridges between different cultures, different kinds and sources of knowledge, and between knowledge and citizenship. This involves the necessary decolonization of knowledge and the need to establish an open dialogue between scientific and indigenous knowledge, among others.
Cristina Escrigas from Spain started the session by reaffirming the need to broaden our concept of knowledge and to create new ways of understanding reality. As a preamble to the subsequent part of the session, François Vallaeys delighted the audience with a tale related to the concept of knowledge and the need to go deeper in terms of real listening skills.
Granados presented six key points on which knowledge could be re-conceptualized, using the metaphor of a letter k with an asterisk (k*):
“There are at least six changes to incorporate into the way we handle, use, build and understand knowledge: there must be a movement from a mono-culture of scientific knowledge to an ecology of knowledge; to move from rational knowledge to integral human knowledge and from descriptive knowledge to knowledge for intervention; to change from partial knowledge to holistic and complex knowledge; to abandon the isolated creation of knowledge in order to start building a social co-creation of knowledge; and to stop conceiving of a static use of knowledge and to move towards dynamic and creative knowledge”.
In the third part of the session, Paul Wangoola and Manuel Ramiro Muñoz shared their visions and experiences of the main characteristics of ancient indigenous-African knowledge in their respective regions.
Paul Wangoola and Manuel Ramiro Muñoz debated on the main characteristics of holistic ancestral knowledge.
“Ancient knowledge is living knowledge. Knowledge is a common vital force, and living things share the characteristics of this vital force. Everything in the world is interconnected and coherent, and knowledge is distributed. If you want knowledge, you need to be surrounded by all living things, because that’s where knowledge is”. (Paul Wangoola)
They were also asked about what knowledge is and who should decide this. They were asked to debate how to bring an enlarged idea of knowledge into the current rational scientific paradigm.
“Language and culture define knowledge. Knowledge is the understanding of interconnectedness, that the being of one is the being of everything else. A greater force gives us the assets that enable us to keep knowing”. (Paulo Wangoola)
“We know more than we understand. Indigenous communities understand more than they know. Their knowledge is the living and experience of what they want to comprehend. Indigenous knowledge is synthetic; it captures totalities. It does not come from theories, just from action or silence. Scientific knowledge creates distance between us and the object; it demands that we have the analytical capacity to fragment reality and to name the process. Knowledge permits many actions and benefits that mankind needs and that make our life better. Indigenous and scientific knowledge mirror each other and complement each other. What is missing in one is what is present in the other, and vice versa. It is necessary to understand and to know”. (Manuel Ramiro Muñoz)
“One of the most important powers of the 21st century is knowledge. Indigenous knowledge suffers from invisibility and epistemological denial still today. In the past, indigenous people were said to have no soul; today they are said to have no knowledge”. (Manuel Ramiro Muñoz)
The last question for them was related to what can be done to establish a productive dialogue between indigenous and scientific knowledge.
“This debate broke out a few years ago. Resources are in institutions that are part of the problem. It is about reorganizing different groups of people in the African multiversity to collect knowledge. We need to leave all rules and start from the beginning”. (Paulo Wangoola)
“Universities have to be true universities. This means that the university prepares us better for dialogue with other cultures, if it is plural and diverse, and not monocultural. The university must be a place for dialogue and reunion. From ancestral cultures we need this dialogue to be without ethnocentrism or endogamy, but we need to recover their knowledge and wisdom. The university is made to think. There is university if there is thought, if it is created and spread, and if knowledge is applied. And we need to be true scientists to be able to draw this bridge and not scientists with epistemologies from the 19th century”. (Manuel Ramiro Muñoz)
The session ended with the intervention of Lean Heng Chan from Malaysia, who has extensive experience in generating knowledge for social transformation. Her contribution was centred on the role of civil society as producers of knowledge. From the perspective of the democracy of knowledge, Chan highlighted that civil society is a place for genuine knowledge because it generates knowledge for life and for living, including all forms of life. It is a practical knowledge because it is knowledge for action and knowledge as action (developed by struggle). “We need reflexive knowledge for reflexive action”. For her, it is important to know what civil society and social movements do and why they are places for knowledge creation. Heng also emphasized that higher education must open a reflexive process of knowing and that it must create spaces for activists in which to share knowledge from their experiences. She ended her intervention by asking: “What kind of knowledge do we need? For what purposes? For whom? What does it mean to be transformative?”
Redefining political frameworks and structures to make engagement happen
Paul Manners from the UK was the chair of the session, and Nieves Tapia from Argentina, Paul Benneworth from the Netherlands and Andrew Petter from Canada were the panellists.
The session started with the assumption that if we want universities to be transformative they have to transform themselves first. Manners stated:
“It is a really complicated topic to understand how change happens. We have identified four dimensions that we think are important to think about: one of these dimensions is policy itself, how the governments set the direction of HE. The second dimension is money, funding, and how this money flows to the system and who gets access to this funding. Third, we have the structures and how they organized. And fourth, the people build networks and then come together to make the engagement happen”.
The questions to the panellists were about how these four dimensions must be handled for a successful process of engagement that the institution supports properly. Below are some of the responses of the panellists to these questions.
“I will start with the people because I think the basis is the people, if there is not a critical mass of engaged teachers, engaged students, engaged communities… the policies will be nothing and money will not help”. (N. Tapia)
“If we want to develop effective policies we have to make visible and acknowledge the good practices, to generate training opportunities for students and academic staff, to enable networks are much more important than funding. We think that creativity, ingenuity and joining forces, all of that generates more authentic resources than a dependence on public funding or big grants”. (N. Tapia)
“Universities had survived because they did a good job of supporting the elites. We have to start with the understanding that we are pushing institutions in a direction that is not natural to them, that is not the direction that they have historically travelled in”. (A. Petter)
“We have to understand all the elements in the system if we want to score our goals. We have to know how universities fit into this broad system with governments and civil society and how universities can build them up and create capacity. Universities are very complex institutions that socialize learning communities. We have to understand the dynamics and developments of these learning communities and how social policies fit into them in co-producing knowledge”. (P. Benneworth)
“The first social mission of the university is to think what kind of students, people and professionals we are forming. Change is related to horizontal solidarity, which means local actors must act as co-protagonists and not just recipients and that we must let reality transform us”. (N. Tapia)
“Technological innovation has two properties: it drives change and it is well understood by everyone. These properties can be applied to engagement: we have to think about change as a process, to identify how the process operates and how the university influences this process”. (P. Benneworth)
After one hour of discussion in the plenary session, four different parallel workshops were developed to go deeper into some of the ideas that were highlighted. Edward T. Jackson from Canada chaired the Institutional structures workshop; Paul Manners chaired the Policy workshop; Claudia Neubauer chaired the Funding workshop and Michael Cuthill chaired the Networks workshop.
The Institutional structures workshop started with two initial questions for the debate: Which actions and structures in HEIs would allow CUE to have a better status and consideration among scholars? What can be done in terms of HEIs’ structures to guarantee engagement as something intrinsic to the institution? The concrete demand for the group was to identify the main issues to consider in building structures at the institutional level that work to serve both institutional and external needs.
The Policy workshop discussed the actions and mechanisms that really influence existing policy frameworks. Its aim was to identify the key issues to consider in building higher education policies at the national level, in order to give engagement higher status and more recognition.
The Funding workshop dealt with the following two questions: What are the key strategies for community-university engagement initiatives to be better funded? How can funding agencies and bodies be incorporated as part of CUE partnerships?
The fourth workshop, which focused on the role of networks, discussed the following questions: What are the impacts of CUE networks in single higher education institutions (HEIs)? What initiatives that have not already been taken can be proposed for better support and impact of CUE? How can CUE networks improve their influence and impact on HEI structures, policy frameworks and funding?
Engagement with added value and collective impact
The last plenary of the conference was given by George Openjuru from Uganda, Hans G. Schuetze from Canada and Hiram Fitzgerald and John Saltmarsh from the USA, the latter by videoconference.
The aim of the session was to reflect on the need to measure the quality of engagement and how it can be generated in ways that are consistent with the spirit of engagement and that engages all actors together. The session also aimed to explore the key issues that give added value to the practices of engagement in terms of social responsibility and social transformation.
Openjuru focused on this last point and spoke about the features of community engagement that facilitate real added value, distinguishing real participation and involvement as crucial. He pointed out the diversity in CUE intervention strategies and that the outcomes must bring a positive change in terms of social transformation and in the reorientation of curricula. Regarding how to assess the quality of CUE, he suggested doing it at all levels (university, department, individual staff, programme, etc.), and he wondered whether using quantitative and qualitative measurements and internal and external evaluations is necessary.
Schuetze stated: “We cannot discuss the question of relationship with the community without looking into the environment in which universities operate. For organizations to thrive, they need to be in tune with their environment”. He added some reflections on the environmental factors that have an impact on universities, the role of universities in the international environment and global competition. Rankings impact on resources, reputation and research priorities and they place little emphasis on teaching and learning and even less emphasis on services, including community engagement.
Fitzgerald noted that programme outcome metrics assess programme change, and suggested that for complex issues and for system change what is needed are collective impact metrics. We understand collective impact to be a substantial impact on a large-scale social issue that meets five conditions: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and a backbone organization. Fitzgerald emphasized: “We need strategic doings, not strategic planning”.
John Saltmarsh gave (by videoconference) an overview of the Carnegie Foundation’s classification for community engagement. He pointed out that universities seek the classification for a number of reasons: institutional self-study, legitimacy for work already done, accountability and/or as a catalyst for change. CUE as transformational change is about changing the culture of the institution, which implies a deep and pervasive long-term commitment.
During the session there was also a space for group work based on the following questions: How do we align programme-level evaluation indicators with system change metrics (including ‘collective impact’)? How can community engagement be assessed and measured? What can and should its impact be measured? How can or should community engagement be treated in terms of academic standing, rewards for engaged faculty, resources devoted?
The closing session
The closing session of the conference began with the reading of the global communiqué The grand global challenges and the transformation to sustainable societies by Lean Heng Chan from Malaysia and Norbert Steinhaus from Germany. After that, Salem Malik from Saudi Arabia read the Riyadh Declaration on Social Responsibility that was agreed several weeks before at the International Conference on HE in Saudi Arabia on the social responsibility of universities.
The GUNi conference ended by giving the voice to ten participants who shared their impressions. The participants were selected to reflect the diversity of voices that were following the conference during these days.
“The deliberations of the conference made it amply clear that transformative knowledge to drive social change requires transformation of the system of higher education nationally and globally. Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to revitalize themselves as spaces for inclusive learning and critical practice. In this pursuit, community engagement is not merely about the mission of service. The societal contributions of universities and institutions of higher education are only possible when they integrate this perspective in their core missions of teaching and research”. (Rajesh Tandon’s blog)
GUNi would like to thank all of the institutional supporters, presenters and participants at the conference for their passion, commitment and willingness to help us build this space for sharing and discussing and for taking their reflections back home with them to their daily work on community-university engagement.