As the late afternoon approached, the discussion was around knowledge, engagement and higher education in the US and Canada. The conversation was led by Dr. Fitzgerald, Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement at Michigan State University. Common themes throughout the talk included the relationship between higher education and the communities in which they are situated.
Cristina Escrigas noted that service learning must move beyond the traditional ‘one directional’ method. She asked, “How can professors change the way they teach service learning? How do we create cross-disciplinary and even cross-university engagement?” She stressed the importance of engagement to work with the local needs in order to link globally and make a difference on a broader scale. “We need to change structures to change reality.”
Questions of scale soon formulated as one delegate pointed out that the size of a university can impact its willingness to affect change within the local community. How can larger state universities who are often involved in more regional engagement re-localize their efforts in community-based research? Further questions arose when Bud Hall mentioned the increasing trend of internationalization of universities. Fitzgerald explained that many international students studying in North America are keen on staying to find work following their graduation. Yet he suggested that there should be greater incentives for those students to create positive changes in the field of CBR back in their home cities.
With so many questions and challenges relating to community-based learning in higher education, where does this leave the dialogue in the context of Canada and the US? The need to strengthen CBR with higher education by enhancing knowledge mobilization and policies and practices inside universities is a difficult task. Escrigas raised an important point during her closing recommendations. She stated that values and ethics are embedded within social responsibility. This critical dimension to addressing structural, social, and methodological challenges within higher education should be included in the report. “This is knowledge for a new era.”