Unfortunately, what our most of our higher education is dealing with today is abstract research problems, research which remains unconnected to real life, and in the bargain, it is producing poorly educated students who don’t care”, thus spoke Ms. Lou Melegrito, Director, COSCA, DLSU, Philippines at the second AsiaEngage Regional Conference held from the 17th to the 20th of November’2014, at the Grand Nikko, in Bali, Indonesia.
As a prelude to the Conference, a couple of pre-conference workshops were held on the 17th of November on the themes of ‘Research Driven Community Engagement’ and ‘Measurement of Impact of Community University Engagement”. The former was facilitated by Professor Piyawat Boonlong, Executive Director, Knowledge Network Institute, Thailand (KNIT), and Dr Avorn Opatpatanakit, Assistant President, Research and Academic Service, Chai Mai University, Thailand. The latter had Dr Hector Salazar Salame, Director, JPAL SEA as the facilitator. As these workshops attempted to build base for the conference to be followed, it gave an excellent opportunity to the participants to learn more about the nuances of the topics and gather new information in this context.
The following three days of the conference witnessed excellent sharing of issues from various regions across Asia. Themed “Innovation & Creativity: Collaborating with Communities to tackle problems within ASEAN and beyond”, the conference had five brilliant plenary sessions with experienced and reputed professionals sharing their ideas and concerns, which ranged from academics, civil society, along with agencies such as the World Bank. The plenary sessions focused on Research Driven Community Engagement, Knowledge Driven Volunteerism and Community Engagement, Institutionalization and Mainstreaming of Community Engagement, Community Engaged Teaching and Learning and Measurement of Impact of Community Engaged Initiatives. A very brief summary on the main discussion points that emerged out of the plenary discussions are:
- The importance of need assessment, and identification of specific needs and strengths, before embarking on a community engagement practice
- Resource mobilization for community engagement.
- Integration of learning, research and community service activities into Higher Education
- Addressing challenges such as impact evaluation & assessment, issue of multidisciplinarity, maintenance of academic focus, expansion of cross-sectoral collaborations.
- Focussing on the principles of Community Engaged Teaching & learning, such as the pedagogy, beneficial partnerships, reflection, link to curriculum, student voice in participatory monitoring & evaluation.
- Government, Civil Society and the business sector, as three main engines of change, led by Higher Education.
- Importance of community driven development, wherein they themselves plan, implement and monitor investment that respond to their priority development needs.
Apart from the above mentioned points, a lot of other issues in the context of community engagement in HEIs and its relevance/rationale were discussed during the open forum sessions, wherein the delegates the voiced their opinion, ideas and concerns. This hence proved to be an excellent platform not only to bring together the ideas and concerns, but also learn from varied experiences and the successful models of practice. Delegates from Engagement Australia, Engagement Thailand, and the University of Malaysia/Philippines put forth their visions of community engagement and the related issues.
Along with the plenary and the open forum discussions, the three day conference also saw five breakout sessions, which had as many as 93 paper presentations, from different regions across Asia. Herein, Ms. Wafa Singh, Program Officer, PRIA, and India Co-ordinator of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, presented a paper titled “Gauging the impact of community university engagement initiatives in India”. Complementing the paper presentation sessions were a series of excellent poster presentations which displayed the myriad colours of engagement being practiced across the Asian region and beyond.
The three day conference ended with a community tour, wherein the participants were toured around the local villages of Kuwum and Sobangan, where they saw the various development works carried on by the community themselves under the PNPM program, jointly managed by the district Government and supported by the World Bank.
“We need Higher Education that empowers people and improves their quality of life, and in this process, makes an attempt to ENGAGE them, and not just INVOLVE them.”
“It is difficult to be a good person in the absent of a good society, therefore we must be the change we wish to see in the world”, thus remarked Dr Bachtiar Alam, Director of Research and Community Engagement, As he declared the Second AsiaEngage Regional Conference officially closed.