This was the theme of the 6th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education. Convened by GUNI (www.guninetwork.org) in partnership with a dozen regional and international networks, the conference in Barcelona during May 13-15, 2013 attracted 350 delegates from 60+ countries.
The conference was focused on “let’s build transformative knowledge to drive social change”. As an academic conference of the highest standard, it attracted nearly 70+ papers, research studies and policy analysis. What was distinctive about this conference was the methodology of deliberations and conversations before, during and after the conference. Nearly one-fifth of the delegates came from civil society; amongst the rest, there were university administrators, students, researchers, scholars, funding councils and agencies supporting higher education.
The preparation of the conference began with invitation to all those regional and global networks which have been working on different aspects of community engagement in higher education. The speakers, panelists and presenters were involved in designing the contents and process of the conference. The preparatory process gave a clear signal that ‘transformative knowledge’ (like all transformative actions) is both a matter of head and heart. We can work together to commit our imagination to a world we all want to live in, and leave behind for our children and grand- children.
The conference began with a statement about the disturbing global reality we live in today. It then brought the messages of hope from students from 25+ countries to imagine a world we want. It is in the service of that imagination that higher education must find its niche and relevance tomorrow.
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. ‘Be knowledgiastic’ implies respect for diversity of knowledge ecologies and a dynamic curriculum and pedagogy that gives centrality to the societal challenges of our times.
GUNI is preparing its next World Report on “Knowledge, Engagement and Higher Education: Rethinking Social Responsibility”. To be published by Palgrave by November 2013, it will contain the most comprehensive global assessment of community engagement in higher education. It will also include the conclusions from this conference as they relate to the contemporary challenges in ensuring social responsibility in higher education today.
As UNESCO Co-Chairs, Budd and I feel fortunate to be associated with the preparation and conduct of this major conference. We are happy to be associated with the forthcoming World Report as Guest Editors with GUNI Team. We hope to be able to take these agendas forward in our countries and regions with all your support.