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Consultation on ‘Strengthening Community Engagement in Higher Education Institutions’, Bundelkhand University, Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, 12th January’2015

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The UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education in India, further expanded its academic outreach and entered into a partnership with the Bundelkhand University in Jhansi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. An MoU was signed with the University, in a small consultation held on the 12th of January’2015. The consultation provided a platform where a range of areas where community university engagement could be sought, was brainstormed and discussed upon.

Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair, laid the platform with his keynote speech, in which he emphasized the importance and relevance of a University connecting to the society around it. He underlined the importance of the University and the academic sphere recognizing, accepting and respecting the alternate knowledge forms residing within the community. The Bundelkhand region, in particular, has been marred with a number of problems such as gender imbalance, degradation of natural resources, such as water, unsustainable livelihood issues. Dr Tandon, in particular, emphasized that in was in the light of such issues in the surrounding community, that the role played by the university acquired assumed greater significance and prominence. He shared that if the knowledge acquired within the premises was infused into efforts such as joint researching with the community, also taking into account their indigenous knowledge, then a number of such problems could be countered with sustainable and long lasting solutions. In addition to this, Dr Tandon also outlined the importance of wholesome development of the students, a process in which they cannot be kept aloof from the realities of the society around them “It is essential that a University utilizes its resources, pedagogy and knowledge to serve the society, also utilizing the community knowledge in the bargain, which has sustained within the communities since the time in memorial and helped them traverse adverse conditions in historical times. Therefore, the university coming in sync with the people and their knowledge systems was of utmost importance in today’s times”, quoted Dr Tandon.

Complimenting Dr Tandon’s thoughts, Professor Avinash Chandra Pandey, Vice-Chancellor, Bundelkhand University also supported the idea of community university engagement, along with according due importance to it in the existent scenario. He shared that while the University continues to excel in the areas of teaching and research, it is equally committed to serve the society by expanding its third dimension of service which is ‘extension’. “A University cannot remain aloof from the society, and it is of utmost importance that we give back the knowledge acquired in the premises to the communities in the surroundings”, quoted Prof Pandey. He also voiced Dr Tandon’s ideas of working on the local issues, while looking to engage the community with the university, in an attempt to seek solutions to pressing problems. He shared that the problem of female and infanticide and declining sex ration is one such problem, which can be dealt with through meaningful engagement with the community. At the end, Professor Pandey reiterated the commitment of Bundelkhand University as a complete unit, in serving the society for the better, through all viable and possible means.

A step further in this direction has been that the University has volunteered to apply for establishing a Centre for fostering Social Responsibility and Community Engagement, under a recently launched University Grants Commission (UGC) Scheme. For this purpose, the respected Vice-Chancellor also deputed Dr Rochna Srivastava, Dean, Faculty of Arts to take further steps in this direction. A very important and significant component under this scheme, which distinguishes itself from other similar schemes, is the element of mutuality inbuilt in it. This Centre will ensure that the activities it embarks upon, is in response to the needs, requirements and the aspirations of the society, and not guised by opinionated versions of the University alone. UGC will be supporting the University, in its efforts by providing it with a financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 2.5 crore, over a period of three years. Herein, the UNESCO Chair has also volunteered to support the University in framing a good quality proposal for submission under this UGC Scheme.

The event also saw the launch of a campaign known as the ‘Kadam Badao Campaign’ (an initiative of PRIA), at the University an initiative PRIA. This is a youth lead campaign against violence against women, and has been taking place in several states in India, such as Haryana, Rajasthan, etc. This basic tenet of this campaign also involves engagement with the community, which is very much visible by the modalities it follows. While PRIA plays the role of a facilitator/supporter, the campaign is spearheaded by a core group, comprising of youths, both from the community and the university. They jointly decide on the propaganda, design and activities of the campaign, in assistance with many other such young boys and girls. This direct engagement with the community and the university opens up a plethora of opportunities for meaningful and relevant actions and is of special importance is seeking sustainable to critical local problems.
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