The Indian leg of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education entered a new domain of work last year. This was offering internship opportunities to students in the area of community engagement and social responsibility in Higher Education. The Chair has successfully run two sessions of this summer internship program, which started last year. This internship program was initiated under the supervision of Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO chair, and the first university to avail of this opportunity was Lingnan University, Hongkong. Special mention should be made of Dr Carol Ma, Associate Director, Office of Service Learning, Lingnan University, for her crucial role in shaping up this program, and having her students travel to India for research work.
So, this year, three Lingnan students, namely, Mr Kelvin Ching, Mr Sunny Wong and Mr Manlai Cheung visited PRIA during July-August’ 2015. Driven by their interest to work on community issues and higher education, the UNESCO Chair entrusted upon them an exclusive assignment to examine and assess the forms and practices of community engagement at two distinct universities, viz. Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya (BPSMV), Sonepat and Dayalbagh Educational Institute (DEI), Agra. The students studied the different practices at the both the universities, their strengths and weaknesses, and also came up recommendations to strengthen the same in the future. The presentations given and the reports submitted by the students can be accessed at:
Pic 1: Students presenting their research work in PRIA
UNESCO Chair-India also used this opportunity to let the students explore other areas of work as well. Considering this, it arranged a field visit for the students to Jaipur, where PRIA is running various urban and gender based programs. Here, the students got to learn the nuances of project execution, as they participated in community meetings and met project staff. This was greatly welcomed by the students, as they shared that ‘it was a huge learning opportunity for us, and we would apply the lessons learnt here, in the projects we are a part of, at our university and also in separate assignments’ (one of the students worked for an NGO in Hongkong and was specially enthused after this visit)’.
Pic 2: Students interacting with community groups in Jaipur
As UNESCO Chair-India (PRIA) played host to the students, a lot of positives emerged for it as well. While it strengthened its academic partnership with Lingnan, this program has also opened avenues for future opportunities to be pursued with Indian universities and students. As the Lingnan students travelled to the host universities in Agra and Sonepat, the Chair has received requisitions for more such programs, with increased interest being shown by both faculty and students in this area of work. BPMSMV has also proposed a program whereby Indian students can intern in Hongkong and acquire learnings from that part of the world, which has been readily welcomed by authorities in Lingnan University. Further, BPSMV and DEI are among the Chair’s most trusted and valued academic partners in India. This program has further strengthened our ties with them and also provided us a database on their engagement practices, which will prove to be a valuable resource for us in the future.
As the essence of the UNESCO Chair is based in knowledge democracy, it believes in propagating this idea in all the effort it undertakes. The internship program has provided a new vision on expanding the domain of knowledge and engagement, as also encouraging the Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) to work with civil society organizations in an attempt to build mutual trust, expose students to practice based knowledge and create an environment wherein key stakeholders of the society can work together towards building a better future.