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Our UNESCO Chair is almost four years old!

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We are in sight of our fourth birthday as the co-holders of our UNESCO Chair on Community-based Research (CBR) and Social Responsibility (SR) in Higher Education.  The terms for all of the UNESCO Chairs are 4 years.  We have given it considerable thought and have decided to request a renewal of the Chair for four more years.  The process involves receiving support from our respective institutions (UVic and PRIA), our respective UNESCO national commissions and then the approval ultimately of the Director-General of UNESCO.  It is common that such Chairs are renewed, but the reporting and reviewing are to be taken seriously.

We thought that we might share a few reflections on how the work of the past few years has gone from our perspectives and some of the things that we feel are left to do for a further mandate.  But before our brief reflections, we want to extend a very sincere appreciation to the hundreds, perhaps more, of you from community organisations, from networks, from higher education institutions, from funding agencies, and local governments who have been part of our research, our conferences, our workshops, our publications, our efforts to persuade the authorities to invest in the co-construction of knowledge. If we have been able to move the debates and discussions around community based research and social responsibility forward at all, it is because we are a part of a global movement.

A full report of our first four years is available at our web site, so we will not repeat all the details here. But we remind our blog readers that our overall priority is to strengthen CBR and SR capacity in the global South.  We have pursued that objective through research, advocacy and capacity building activities.  The central focus of our research has been on two major global studies: a study of administrative  and institutional structures to support community-university research partnerships and a study on opportunities to learn how to do CBR around the world.  Many of you have been part of these studies.  The results of these studies have been, or are being published, in open access e books free of charge to anyone with an internet connection.

What have we found?  We have documented and provided evidence of the existence of what might be called a global trend in community university engagement and research or what we prefer to think of as a movement towards knowledge democracy and  co-construction of knowledge.  We have learned as well that while many CBR projects speak of co-construction of knowledge, the higher education institutions still dominate these partnerships by either creating the research questions or controlling the funding or both.  We have learned that it is necessary to create purpose-built structures to support the respectful co-construction of knowledge if we want to see the benefits of collaborative research have the most impacts in our communities and our societies.  We have also learned that there is a huge appetite around the world to learn how to do CBR, but that the opportunities to do so, either as part of a formal university curriculum or in more informal but systematic ways do not match the demand. 

In our advocacy work, much of it done in collaboration with the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) through their World Reports on Higher Education series, we have learned that having a national policy framework and environment is a critical element in deepening our movement.  We have learned that the senior leadership in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is often caught in competing demands for attention to issues such as the global ranking environment as well as demands from the locality or region where HEIs are located.  We have learned that some research granting councils recognize and fund partnership research while in many countries granting councils do not exist, or where they do, they are focussed only on university-led research.

As we plan for the next four years of the Chair, we will continue to focus on research and advocacy, but would like to focus much more on the capacity-building side.  We are working towards the creation of an international consortium for learning in CBR. We think of this work as contributing to the next generation of CBRers.  While many of us learned our CBR skills through trial and error over the years, we can’t wait 25 years for the current generation to follow this same path.  Our networks, universities, NGOs can be linked in ways that will accelerate training opportunities. There are several other areas that we might mention, but perhaps just one more.  We have devoted the first four years to the CBR side of our title.  We would like to focus more attention in the next four years on the social responsibility in higher education side of our name.  A study and a book on the subject are possibilities.

Finally we would like to say that we look forward to continuing to support your work, to contribute to your conferences, to support efforts to gain more funding and better policy environments for this work in your locations and contexts.  Our intention is to remain firmly anchored in our even expanding movement of knowledge democracy.

Dr. Budd Hall and Rajesh Tandon
March 14, 2016

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