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Community Engagement in Higher Education Institutions

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The Indian leg of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education recently completed a project titled ‘Community Engagement in Higher Education Institutions’. Funded by the British Council, the project covered the states of Punjab, Bengal, Assam and Karnataka. Here, the UNESCO Chair partnered with Punjab University (PU), North Bengal University (NBU), Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (IIT-G) and Jain University (JU)’ Bangalore, respectively. With the help of these institutions, the Chair conducted a survey on the current practices of community engagement in the HEIs of all the 4 states. This resulted in the production of the first of its kind database on this subject, which shed light on the current scenario and helped to plan for future activities. The survey brought out some very interesting results, which showed good promise for pursuing this area of work in the future. While the Biotechnology Department at NBU engaged with the local agricultural community in a mutually beneficial manner, the students at IIT-G through various innovative projects engaged in some form of ‘service-learning’. Karnataka’s community radio ‘Radioactive’ emerged as applying a tripartite approach to engagement which combined participatory research, citizen voice and community campus partnerships. This mapping exercise was followed by workshops/conferences on ‘Community Engagement in HEIs’ in each of the states. The workshops provided an opportunity to brainstorm on the survey results, and also deliberate on the scope and the opportunities in field of community engagement. Attended by different stakeholders such as the academia, government, civil society, the workshops provided an opportunity to share mutual experiences, best practices as also concrete action points for operationalizing community engagement in the Indian higher education system. The workshops paved the way for the future as the stakeholders reiterated their commitment to take the agenda forward in their own capacities. Support from the governmental machinery as in Punjab and Karnataka further energized the efforts and gave it due visibility in local circles.

Apart from the core project activities, the UNESCO Chair also engaged in a number of allied interventions to promote this area of work. It organized a number of seminars/conferences in universities/colleges, such as Bundelkhand University, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, for raising awareness on the issue and bringing on board the different actors involved in the process. The Chair also played a key role in the formulation of the new UGC scheme, which provides for the establishment of Center for fostering social responsibility and community engagement in Universities. It also organized a consultation on the scheme, which saw participation by a number of universities and has also volunteered for mentoring the project proposals being submitted under the scheme.

The Chair summed up the project with a National Symposium on ‘Mainstreaming Community-University Partnerships’. This symposium witnessed some esteemed participants deliberating in the event. Some of the eminent invitees included Dr Budd Hall, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair, Dr Bl Mungekar (former member, Planning Commission), Dr Cristina Escrigas from Global University Network for Innovation, Dr Carol Ma from Lingnan University, Hong Kong, Mr Denis Dambois from European Union, among many others. All of them shared their experiences in the field of engagement and deliberated on methods to take it forward. The event also saw Dr Ronki Ram and Dr Pahi Saikia from Punjab University and IIT-G respectively, sharing the findings which emerged from the survey conducted in their respective states. Participants like Dr Anindya Chatterjee from IDRC and Dr Furqan Qamar from AIU gave the symposium a holistic perspective. Excellent inputs from stakeholders coming from academia, civil society, etc, provided a platform from where this agenda can be taken forward. The Chair re-iterated its commitment to continue working on the engagement topic and pledged to partner with institutions like AIU/IDRC for building a national network of engaged practitioners. In this regard, it has taken a step forward towards the formation of an Alliance on Community Engagement (ACE), [one of the recommendations of Planning Commission’s sub-committee on ‘strengthening community engagement in HEIs’] and will be giving it a final shape very soon.

You can find all reports under this project in the ‘Resources’ section of the UNESCO Chair website (http://unescochair-cbrsr.org/unesco/)

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