University Social Responsibility: Methodological Development Proposal

MARTÍ, Juanjo (2010)

In this article, Juanjo Martí Noguera, of the University of Valencia, presents an analysis of the social responsibility of the university. This analysis of the social responsibility of the university, is in particular, coming from a psychology perspective and sketches the first approximation on the study of university social responsibilities, values, and empathy, as seen from the perspective of gender roles. The objective of the project is to establish whether values of empathy are the variables to consider when trying to promote social responsibility amongst a population that is constantly moving into different career courses.

The Social Responsibility at Universities (SRU) has begun to receive attention since this first decade of this century. In fact, by reference to the final declaration of the World Conference of Higher Education of UNESCO in 1998[1], some aspects related to the social mission of higher education organizations have been identified, such as, to ‘educate highly qualified graduates and responsible citizens, giving students the opportunity to develop their own full abilities with a sense of social responsibility (...)’, for which higher education should increase its contribution to the development of the whole education system, among other actions by developing curricula and educational research. In the final conference declaration of 2009[2], UNESCO again reaffirms the duty of higher education not only to provide skills, but also to contribute to the formation of citizens endowed with ethical principles, committed to building peace, and defending human rights and democratic values.

Both conferences deserve our attention on the points raised, since it is a remarkable duty to educate students in order to become responsible professionals that are concerned about the future of society. It seems necessary that universities include studies about the student profiles of those entering Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and promote research into how and in what way HEIs contribute to the training/formation of the socially-oriented and ethical professional.

State of the art on Social Responsibility of Universities

Since the beginning of the 21st century, some universities have begun to work and develop the concept and implications of Social Responsibility of Universities (SRU), either jointly or individually. It is worth mentioning the case of the Talloires network[3], which includes universities in different countries and in their statement (2005), focuses its commitment on promoting consciousness among "a deep sense of social responsibility and a commitment to the welfare of society."

In the field of SRU in Latin American universities, one of the most influential authors is François Vallaeys[4], consultant in Ethics, Social Capital and Development, a chapter of IADB[5]; whose model of USR is based on the impact that university management has on society. His proposals are present in most university studies and plans on SRU.

In terms of standout initiatives, the process of AUSJAL[6], developed internationally between member institutions of the Jesuit university network, the Chilean national project ‘Universidad Construye País’ (UCP), the regional initiative of the Social Councils forum of Andalusian public universities[8], and the cases of Francisco de Vitoria University[9], and the University of Valladolid[10].

Some university networks, (AUSJAL[11], 2009; Universidad Construye País[12], 2006), and some universities (De la Calle, 2010; Responsibility Factory Member of the University of Valladolid, 2009)  have started researching on SRU, and it has began the development of methodologies and assessment tools from a different perspective that nevertheless shares common standards on the study of SRU. In addition, six universities in Chile and the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria have introduced social responsibility themes in the curricular content of the different degrees they are offering.

We focus attention on the UCP project, having been launched in 2001 amongst different universities, including public universities, private (secular), and Catholic-oriented private schools, in order to expand the concept and practice of social responsibility.   It comprises the only national experience of the longest-running study of SRU. Basic in its development, according to the promoter of the project from the Catholic University of Temuco, Ms. Jiménez de la Jara[13] (2007), was that in the process each university should be free to carry-out their processes of understanding and analyses its social responsibility with emphasis on the values and ethics, and that each University had to explain their priorities and work in line with the statement.

The universities of UCP assume ‘University Social Responsibility as the ability of the University as an institution to disseminate and implement a set of principles and values, through four key processes: management, teaching, research and extension (UCP, 2002)[14]’. Jiménez (2007) explains the importance in creating appropriate contexts for people in order to develop an appropriate management of human capital, since one of the fundamental ideas from this organizational management approach is to build dialogic spaces, and the declaration of the commitments undertaken.

Jiménez (2007) says that this approach carries the implication that values are learned from emotion-motivation, and that we experience or experiment with them and then with thought and argument, and therefore universities must identify and commit to the values are willing to live and which are key to their development process since ‘The statements of principles and values do not guarantee the generation of commitments.’ (UCP, 2006, p. 131) Jiménez highlights that "you cannot manage what you do not communicate, communicate what is not measured, measure what is not defined, and define what is not understood." (UCP, 2006, p.109)

From this perspective, it takes into account the analysis presented by De la Cuesta and Fernandez (2008) in the conclusions of the "I Jornada Iberoamericana de Responsabilidad Social de la Universidad"[15] about the social responsibility of universities to the members of the University community: Professors, Researchers, employees and students; which highlighted the problem of representation of interest groups in the governing councils of universities, and the low participation of students. In regarding the lack of participation / representation of students in the councils, De la Cuesta and Fernández mentioned that if they are not participating it is because they probably don't feel part of the university project, noting that it is necessary to detect and analyze the expectations of the stakeholders of the university, with an aim of clarifying and integrating into a common project with the whole members of the university community.

Research of University Values: Challenges and Proposal for a Framework of an Empathetic University.

It is a common issue in the universities that are working toward SRU, to speak of values. In this sense if we consider the factor of low student participation in representative bodies, and non-existence in universities of a systematic assessment of the values that are acquired during formation/education, we have a goal for research on how universities are transmitting their values in the formation of students.

It is possible to work from the scenario that the low participation of students in representative bodies may be because students do not identify as belonging to the university community; so regarding individualistic values, the University may represent just a tool for obtaining a degree, which in this case, harnessing the words of Jiménez (2007), the university could not define their values without knowing the values of its members, professors, employees and students.

Martí et al (2007)[16], has researched on the inclusion of Universities in volunteer activities, from a participative action research methodology, and the importance of the formation of research social communities from the perspective that voluntary action must be reflective about its purpose and implications.

Currently Martí and Martí (2010)[17] have initiated research focusing on the psychological variables that influence a predisposition to social responsibility, picking up the basis of work carried out by Navarro (2008)[18], who defined it as socially responsible behaviour that you have at the roots of intention of mutual benefit. It would not be enough to talk about social responsibility, if it is not exercised and realized through moral conduct.

This approach to social responsibility analyzed from the context of moral psychology is approached from the study of values and ideals that can provide governing beliefs about what should be done, and therefore, attitudes and behaviour (Kristiansen and Hotte, 1996).

The relationship between values focusing on socially responsible behaviour can be studied from Schwartz (1992), who defines values as ‘desirable transnational goals, of varying importance that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or other social entity’, identifying 10 motivational types of values, organized into two dimensions: self-promotion (individualistic behaviours) versus self-transcendence (collectivist behaviours), and openness versus conservation. Schwartz (1992, 2009) characterizes values as beliefs linked inextricably to affect, that motivate action, transcend specific actions and situations, and guide the selection or evaluation of actions and policies.

Assuming the validity of the perspective that values are converging emotions and cognitions, prior to action, we hypothesize that behind the values we can relate to empathy, which is receiving attention from various fields, and was defined by Davis (1983) as the set of constructs included in the observed experiences of another, including affective and non-affective responses. Davis's work on empathy is of particular interest to the study of social responsibility because focusing on its emotional and cognitive variables opens the way to teach empathy.

Navarro (UCP; 2006) has indicated that empathy is part of socially responsible behaviour. Therefore, we believe that empathy can be the basis of social responsibility and should be a matter of research in order to know if that low empathy or not having training empathic skills could involve less orientation towards society and its problems, which can convert the university into a simple tool for personal achievement goals and self-promotion, rather than a community-oriented professional development to improve society.

On research about university, values and empathy, Helkama & Miiry (2001)[19] reported that empathy is related to the Human Values Model of Schwartz, and that values of universalism varies with students from different studies, thus noting that differences over empathy and values are quite present.

From the base of the study from neuroscience, Vignemont and Singer (2006) indicated that people empathise with others when there is a state that is isomorphic to the emotional state of others, and may have been elicited by observing or imagining the other person's affective state. Socially responsible actions reasoned from empathy can be performed without the proximity of those targeted, using imagination or adoption of perspective; empathy also refers to socially-responsible behaviours in regards the environment as referred to by Sevillano (2006).

With this state-of-the-art study, from the interdepartmental Ph.D. ‘Personal development and social participation’[20], we have begun the ‘Study on University Social Responsibility, Values and Empathy from the perspective of the gender role,’ whose purpose is to establish whether empathy and values are the variables to be considered in the higher education system when promoting social responsibility.

This research is open to participation of new universities, will have the participation of universities in Colombia, Chile and Peru to cross-culturally research the effect of the interrelationship between education, students' values and empathy.

The question being asked is whether university management is performed with any cognition and emotion whatsoever, and if so, to what extent?   Can we speak about a university empathetic toward itself and to society?

We start the research with an overall theme such as Universities Social Responsibility, which must be worked into the specific context of each university and faculty. This requires dialogue, as pointed out by Jiménez (2007), and so we have set a collaborative wiki[21] space hosted in and a virtual classroom[22] with research tools for our research proposal.

Innovation in research of conceptualization and development of methodological approaches will require new spaces for dialogue, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) may be the most appropriate structuring tool.

About the author

Marti Juanjo Noguera. Degree in psychology. Conducts research at the interdepartmental doctoral program ‘Personal Development and Social Participation’ of the University of Valencia. He has worked in local government administration in the area of social services and programs funded by the European Union (EU) and subsequently developed a career as a manager of international cooperation programs on the local and regional development levels. His knowledge of institutional functioning on a local, regional, and international level has facilitated his role as a consultant on interregional cooperation programs, since at least 2007, with different public and private entities. He promotes Research & development, and Innovation in the social responsibility of the university, taking into account the sustainable growth perspective and having, as a base concern, the development of people as promoters of socially-responsible organisations.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


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

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