Educating the Heart, Body and Mind: Gandhian principles in developing new futures for higher education in India


18 Sept 2019, New Delhi – “Concepts such as non-violent economy and non-violent governance must replace the present development paradigm modelled on war, crime and violence. There is a lot of research, innovation and investment in the war industry. There is a need to bring the same into non-violence,” said Dr PV Rajagopal, eminent Gandhian practitioner, speaking at the international conference on “Educating the Heart, Body and Mind” held in New Delhi. While sharing his learning curve from local to global knowledge, he also posed an important question for young academics: “How can our education be made relevant to today’s world, especially for the marginalised?”

The two-day international dialogue was organized by the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research & Social Responsibility in Higher Education in association with UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office, International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Association of Indian Universities (AIU). The nation will be celebrating the sesquicentennial birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi next month, and the relevance of Gandhian principles in developing the future of higher education in India is immense. 
Addressing several academicians, philosophers and practitioners gathered at India International Centre in New Delhi on 18 September 2019, Dr Tandon, UNESCO Co-Chair in Community Based Research in his opening note stressed on the need for lifelong learning from society to bridge menial and mental labour, and challenge the dichotomy between knowing and doing that has insulated academia.

The sentiment resonated with most of the day’s esteemed speakers, each of whom presented a blueprint for alternate methods of knowing and doing, to improve upon university education in tandem with Gandhi’s visions that “higher education should produce experts who are relevant for society’s needs”. 

Vice Chairman of UGC, Dr Bhushan Patwardhan, highlighted how universities have monopolised the education system and undermined knowledge creation outside the classroom. Teaching as dialogue, which has been so in Indian tradition, encourages courageous, bold questions and equally bold answers. The initiatives taken by the UGC like ‘Trans-Disciplinary Research in India’s Developing Economy’ to study capacity building with a special focus on social impact projects will offer students an opportunity to work with the community, he added.

Professor George L Openjuru, Vice Chancellor of Gulu University in northern Uganda spoke of “producing knowledge that makes life better”. Dr. Catherine Krull, Special Advisor to the Provost of the University of Victoria, Canada, advocated the need for inclusion of community engagement in mainstream education. She presented key education policies and schemes in Canada that support community engaged learning. Professor Andrea Vargiu, from the University of Sassari, Italy, discussed the myriad possibilities of policy convergence in deepening engaged teaching and research, with special attention to the production and organisation of knowledge.

Dr Budd Hall, UNESCO Co-Chair, struck a hopeful chord, reminding those gathered of peers around the world engaged in important work on bringing community knowledge into the classroom to find solutions to issues ranging from climate change to gender discrimination. He made the critical observation that universities, just like corporations, the state or religion, were sites of contestation. The Knowledge for Change (K4C) program is one such platform that allows vibrant contestation while staying committed to bringing positive changes to the society we are a part of. 

What does it mean to be an educated person in the 21st century? Gandhian principles of “knowledge of the people, for the people”, the transformative power of non-violence, and the tenets of ahimsa incorporated in higher education training and learning provide us pathways for the future. 

For more information about the conference, Knowledge for Change (K4C) program and the work of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, please contact Pooja Pandey (



  • 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