Francesc Xavier Grau, about the 6th GUNi Report and the dual responsibilities of universities at local and global scale

Francesc Xavier Grau. Picture:

Francesc Xavier Grau Vidal is professor of Fluid Mechanics at the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Universitat Rovira I Virgili (Tarragona, Spain). He holds a Ph.D. (1986) and a Licence Degree (1981) in Industrial Chemistry, both from the University of Barcelona. His research interests focus on the physics, modeling and control of heat, mass and momentum transfer in industrial flows and in the environment. He is the author of more than 100 research papers and the supervisor of 11 Ph.D. theses.

He has been non-executive director of GUNi for the last two years and leader of the Higher Education in the World (HEIW) 6th Report Editorial Team.

Interview to the former non-executive director of GUNi & leader of the 6th HEIW Report Editorial Team

What is the 6th HEIW Report about? What are the key messages?

The 6th HEIW Report deals with the dual responsibilities of universities at local and global scale, exploring the potential conflict, or intrinsic difficulties, in addressing both local demands of society based on the race for global competitiveness and local and global demands to contribute to a more equitable and sustainable society (at local and global scales). Like many other organizations today, HEIs are under intense pressure, coming especially from “local” demands, but HEIs have also the singular responsibility of helping to contribute to overcoming the global challenges of the world, which are very well summarized by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
HEIW6 discusses these tensions, and re-interrogates the characteristics of the contemporary HEI. What accounts for the changing role of the university, the increasing demands on and for higher education, and the processes of massification and globalization? To what extent is the experience of so-called world-class universities casting a shadow internationally on higher education, with positive and perverse implications? To what extent are the demands that higher education act as the engine of the economy and of social change also reshaping higher education? How are these different aspects reconciled, and/or are they resolvable?

HEIW6 focuses on providing practical examples of structures and processes so that higher education leaders and the wider academy, policy-makers and decision-takers, and societal stakeholders will support a process of organizational development in a manner that enables HEIs to better respond to the various challenges and expectations relating to this dual level of engagement from a policy and institutional perspective.

The final objective is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of this global and local engagement, and to produce a set of recommendations to strengthen the contribution of HEIs and systems to both local and global demands and requirements.

Why did you choose to the topic of socially responsible universities - balancing the global with the local? Why is it an emerging topic?

HEIs have a central role in the knowledge-based economy and, thus, in the global competitiveness of nations and regions. There is a big amount of ongoing efforts related with the regional/national engagement of HEIs, under the form of conferences, workshops, journals and books. What has not been studied yet is the compatibility of this engagement with the global HEIs’ responsibilities. Universities are, at the end, global institutions by definition. They can be more or less rooted to their place, but their standards, references and impacts have global character. Moreover, the global challenges have such an urgency that one can easily have the feeling of HEIs being too absent of the global arena. Is not only an emerging issue but an urgent one. In fact, the topic is beginning to appear more and more in HE international meetings and conferences (see, for instance, The Vienna Communique 2015: “Global Universities and their regional impact"; the discussions on the LACHEC 2016 conference about Glocal Universities or the fore coming 2017 EAIE Forum on Regionalization and Internationalization of Universities).


What is the expected outcome of the report? What conclusions would you highlight? Is there a "recipe" for a socially responsible universities that balances the global and the local?

More than 30 experts from around the world have contributed to a dissection of the topic and the identification of good practices that can help academic leaders and policy-makers to realize the highest purposes of education and research. The contributions follow the initial decomposition of the report into nine chapters (1. Changing role of HEI’s in light of globalization; 2. Reframing the curriculum; 3. Global knowledge & responsible research; 4. Institutional Governance, organization and management; 5. Glocal HEI’s engagement and ethic implications? 6. Incentivizing institutions, faculty & students; 8. Impacts; and 9. Resourcing) but each of them is independent and stands on its own, offering a rich panorama of analysis, conclusions and, specially, recommendations.

Universities must seek to develop immediate society through teaching, research, and knowledge transfer, and involve themselves in establishing regional strategy in conjunction with the local authorities, social agents and civic representatives.

Ultimately, the needed attitude for a HEI is to be fully engaged and to reflect this engagement on its vision and mission, and in the daily activity. Universities need to be key institutions at the regional level. Universities must also aspire to being globally engaged institutions that educate open-minded, critical and aware citizens, and through their research activity help to define global lines of action leading to a fair and sustainable world.



  • 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