The UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education and the British Council partnered to hold a series of educational dialogues, focused on “Community Engagement in Higher Educational Institutions”. One of them was held at the North Bengal University (NBU), Siliguri, India, on the 3rd and the 4th of March’ 2014. Prior to the dialogue series and as a prologue to the event, a comprehensive survey was conducted in NBU, to tap the current and existential level of community engagement being practices by the affiliated colleges of the Universities. This data provided a platform for the discussions to be taken forward during the dialogue.
The chief guest at the dialogue were Dr Michael Osborne, Chair & professor, University of Glasgow; Dr Emma McKenna, Science Shop Co-ordinator, Queen’s University’ Belfast; and Dr Jennifer Chambers, Senior Policy Manager, Research Councils, UK.
The first day of the dialogue started with an introduction to the event by the respective Vice Chancellor of the Bengal, Dr Somnath Ghosh, followed by a brief on British Council’s portfolio in Higher Education, which was provided by Ms. Lynne Heslop. Dr Samir Kumar Das, former Vice Chancellor of NBU provided the keynote address. This introduction was followed by a note from Dr Rajesh Tandon, who set the stage for the forthcoming deliberations by shedding light on the importance and mannerisms of community engagement.
The introductory session was followed by the first plenary session on “Trends in North Bengal/Punjab”. In this session, Dr Bose, put forth before the participants the findings of the survey in their respective states. The survey brought out the community engagement practices undertaken by the university, and the degree to which it had been successful or unsuccessful. The scenario in Bengal looked to be grim, with minimal engagement taking place. The activities that were undergoing in the university were merely in the name of NSS activities and community development work. It engagement in Bengal, therefore, primarily appeared to be a one –way affair, with the community being only passive recipients of what was handed over to them.
The next session to follow was the one on “Forms and Structures of Community Engagement”. This session witnessed inspiring speeches by some eminent speakers from across the academia, government sector, NGOs, etc, including two of the three chief guests at the dialogue, Dr Michael Osborne and Dr Emma McKenna. While Dr Osborne provided an insight to the role of PASCAL Observatory and its initiatives in promoting the cause of community engagement, such as the PURE project, Dr Emma spoke about her role and range of activities she undertook as the Science Shop Co-ordinator, at the Queen’s University’ Belfast. She elaborated on the ways in which the Science Shop sought to promote community engagement and community based research, by employing students to undertake research in collaboration with the communities. She also briefed the audience about the PERARES project, which looked at mechanisms to involve Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the European Commission in research processes.
Along with them, sharing their experiences in North Bengal were Smt Nandini Kajuri, Director, State Resource Centre, West Bengal, Dr Soumitra De, Department of Political Science, NBU and Dr Biswanath Chakrabarty, Department of Political Science, ravindra Bharti University, Kolkata. While Smt Kajuri spoke of the literacy initiatives undertaken by the state government, Dr Soumitra De spoke of different types of scholarship aimed at promoting engagement, such as scholarship of integration/discovery, teaching etc. Dr Chakrabarty brought the participants attention to some of the striking issues and challenges in this regard. While the former dealt with differential participation based on caste, creed, etc; funding issues and democracy of governing bodies of colleges/universities, the latter included getting the community to engage with universities, challenges at the policy level, etc.
The deliberations were then followed by small group discussions, wherein the participants of the dialogue were split into small groups, and were asked to brainstorm on certain ideas or a couple of initiatives which in their view would help strengthen community engagements in HEIs.
The second day of the dialogue in both the universities started with the session being moderated by Ms. Lynne Heslop, British Council, where, the groups from the previous day produced their ideas before the chair. Following this, was the first technical session of the day on Policy Implications, which saw a presentation being made by Dr Jennifer Chambers, Senior Policy Manager, RCUK. Dr Chambers, being at a senior managerial post in the Research Councils, UK, sought to explain how it has been promoting the cause of community engagement in higher education. She spoke of how it is ensured that the research work which universities undertake has social relevance, through the two platforms of RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) and REF (Research Excellence Framework). She also emphasized on how the “impact” of a particular project was given due recognition, when being considered for funding, thereby promoting engagement opportunities. Dr Chambers also spoke about the NCCPE, which has been supporting universities, in taking up engagement activities and opportunities.
In North Bengal, this session saw speakers in the form of Dr Ranadhir Chakraboarty, Head, Department of Biotechnology and COFAM, NBU and Dr Ranjita Chakrabarty, Department of Political Science, NBU. As the head of the Biotechnology department in NBU, Dr Chakrabarty shared the practices of his department, and the efforts undertaken to promote community engagement. Dr Ranjita, on the other hand, shared her personal experiences in the field of community development work, and put forth some striking issues such as the extreme marginalization faced by the rural community in North Bengal, livelihood issues, lack of manpower in legal aid centres, etc. She advocated that in the wake of such pressing problems, the HEIs could play the role of facilitators, in developing empowered individuals and a strong society. Experiences were also shared by Dr Sheikh Rahim Mandal, NBU, Dr Chinmayakar Das, AC College and Dr Hadida Yasmin, St Xavier’s College.
The dialogue ended with a session on “Ways Forward”, moderated by Dr Rajesh Tandon, which saw eminent speakers put forth to-do action points, in an attempt to take forward the issue of community engagement. The participants in this session in Bengal included Prof Yasin, Father George, Father Cherian, Ms. Lynne Heslop and Mr. Chandan Dutta.
Picture: Dr Somnath Ghosh, delivering the inaugural address at the podium (extreme right). On the dias, Ms. Lynne Heslop (British Council, New Delhi); Dr Rajesh Tandon (UNESCO Chair, New Delhi); Dr Samir Kumar Das (Former VC, NBU), Dr Yasin (Head, Department of Lifelong Learning and Education, NBU)
Picture: Dr Emma McKenna, Science Shop Co-ordinator, Queen’s University, Belfast, giving a presentation on the model of “Science Shops”.
Picture: Session on “Forms & Structures of Community Engagement”. On the dias, Smt Nandini Kajuri (Director, State Resource Centre, West Bengal); Dr Emma McKenna, Science Shop Co-ordinator, Queen’s University, Belfast; Dr Samir Kumar Das ( Former VC, NBU); Dr Soumitra De (Department of Political Science, NBU), Dr Michael Osborne (Chair & professor, University of Glasgow), Dr Biswanath Chakrabarthy (Rabindra Bharti University, Kolkata)
Picture: Session on “Policy Implication”. On the dias, Dr Ranadhir Chakrabarty (Department of Biotechniology, NBU), Dr Rajesh Tandon (UNESCO Chair, New Delhi), Dr Jennifer Chambers (Senior Policy Manager, Research Councils, UK); Dr Ranjita Chakrabarty (Department of Political Science, NBU) [from left to right]
Picture: On the dias, Ms Lynne Heslop (British Council, New Delhi); Ms. Vishu Sharma (British Council, New Delhi), Dr Yasin (Head, DLLE, NBU); Dr Rajesh Tandon (UNESCO Chair, new Delhi); Ms. Wafa Singh (PRIA, New Delhi); Ms. Aparna Bhattacharya (British Council, Kolkata); Dr Emma McKenna (Science Shop Co-ordinator, Queen’s Univeristy’ Belfast); Dr Michael Osborne (Chair & Professor, University of Glasgow), Dr Jennifer Chambers (Senior Policy Manager, Research Councils, UK); Dr Bose (DLLE, NBU).
Picture: Session on “Ways Forwards”. Ms. Lynne Heslop (British Council), Father Cherian (Principal, St Xavier’s College, Jalpaigudi), Mr Chandan Dutta (Consultant, Kolkata), Dr Rajesh Tandon (UNESCO Chair, Delhi), Father George, Dr Yasin (NBU, Siliguri) [from left to right]
North Bengal University’ Siliguri
3rd- 4th of March’ 2014