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Presentation on “Engaged University”, by Dr Andrew Petter, President, Simon Fraser University

Lady Shri Ram College
January 24’ 2014
Introduction

Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, Principal, LSR College welcomed all the esteemed guests and invitees to the seminar. She introduced her college as being an acronym of leadership in social responsibility in higher education, by way of the various initiatives and efforts it has undertaken. However, she said that still there was a long way to go and learn. She said that today we need to explore the ways and means to take on and engage indigenous knowledge, in order to build better societies. Therefore, today a kind of synergy between community engagement and higher educational space was required. She said that “development which is not top down needs to be ensured, in order to engage with the voices, learn from them and also reframe the capacity building model”.

However, she clarified that “community engagement does not mean abdication of state responsibility. It needs to be a state centric model, with the latter playing a key role in facilitating the former”.

Presentation by Dr Petter

Dr Petter focused attention on the ways and means through which we could harness and leverage the strength of universities to contribute to social responsibility. He emphasized on how we can utilize the power of universities to contribute to better societies. He said that “SFU is not only the intellectual heart of the city, but is also increasingly emerging as centre of radicalism”. He shared that how its new campus in downtown Vancouver, has contributed in achieving a positive social impact. This sub-urbian character of the university gave it a sense of social space, as it was situated amidst the community.

Apart from this, even where its campus was situated far from the community as in Burnaby, they have tried to build a UniverCity, along side it, i.e. having a city built besides the university, thereby contributing to the engagement process between the two.

As regards the ‘engaged character’ of SFU, Dr Petter said that “it believes in doing things as fundamentally different from what is usually done”. Its strategic vision therefore, has been to position itself as a leading engaged university in the world. Detailing this process of engagement, which SFU aspires to achieve, Dr Petter said that it usually follows a three pronged approach, i.e., engagement with the students, engagement in research, and engagement with the community. He said that it was this three way interaction that provides a holistic view to the process of engagement. In the same regard, he cited an example of the three pronged approach followed at SFU. They were:

1. SFU semester in dialogue (Engagement with students)

2. HAKAI Network for coast people, ecosystems and management (Engagement in Research)

3. SFU Public square (Engagement with the community)

For the same to be done, he emphasized on the importance of harnessing the available resources, strengths, workplace skills, cultural know-how, civic understanding etc. He said that community based research is basically mobilizing research, out of the confines of the campus, and into the heart of the city and the society. He shared that the essence of ‘engaging’, is making an appeal to become a better self, and a call to becoming something more. This not only benefits the community in a phenomenal way, but the through such a kind of engagement at the university level, the students are able to gain “knowledge, experience and gratification”.

Open Discussion

However, during the discussion that followed the presentation, Dr Petter did acknowledge that situations in Canada and that in India are different and that modus operandi in the two countries therefore, ought to be different. He also made it clear that that universities engaging with the community is a concept which differs from what is known as “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)”. The former basically deals in building respect/motives. It is initiated by organic individuals and the people who are practicing this concept themselves.

According to Dr Rajesh Tandon, President, PRIA, “Higher educational institutions (as institutions of post-secondary education) are spaces which provide professional knowledge and building of skills and competencies”. Therefore, they have to link the available knowledge to that available in the society. By relating our knowledge to the society around us, we can ensure that this connection is made a part of the initiative/study. He also mentioned that ‘teaching and research’, which normally goes on the university, must be replaced by ‘learning and knowledge’.

Conclusion

Summing up the presentation, Dr Gopinath thanked Dr Petter/SFU delegation and PRIA, for providing the wonderful opportunity to engage and learn. She concluded by saying that we should hence strive to build “communities of choice” rather than “communities of coercion

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