This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar

Latest

Enhancing the Social Responsibility of Higher Education – challenges, ideas and opportunities. Insights from the Tempus-ESPRIT project

Hannah Moscovitz

Around the world, the social role of higher education has garnered interest and generated important discussion. It is commonly agreed that alongside their research and teaching functions, academic institutions should also promote what has been termed their “third mission”. Important efforts have been made in recent years to further the understanding of the social role of the university. The Talloires network for instance, provides an international forum of institutions committed to strengthening their social responsibilities. In Europe specifically, the social contribution of higher education has gained ground through the elaboration of a ‘social dimension’ to accompany the Bologna Process reforms.

 

Social responsibility has become an important promotional feature for higher education institutions. University mission statements, websites and promotional materials regularly highlight an institution’s commitment to community engagement and public responsibility. Despite the growing importance of university social responsibility at a declarative level, its implementation in practice is not clear cut. The very notion of what constitutes social responsibility in the higher education realm remains ambiguous. Moreover, notwithstanding important efforts, a coherent and all-encompassing approach both within and between academic institutions, to strengthening social responsibility, is far from complete.

 

The European Commission funded, Tempus-ESPRIT (Enhancing the Social Characteristics and Public Responsibility of Israeli Teaching through an HEI-Student Alliance) project, coordinated by the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society  - Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was developed with the aim of delineating the social responsibility of higher education and clarifying its features, as well as to test models for its enhancement in Israeli universities. Academic institutions and organisations in Israel and Europe [i] as well as the European Students’ Union (ESU) and the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) took part in the project, launched in 2012, and culminating this month.

 

The project’s overall goal is to analyze, map and strengthen the social and public roles of higher education institutions in Israel. To this end, three main pillars were pursued. At an initial phase a mapping exercise was conducted in order to shed light on the level of social engagement of Israeli students/faculty and their perceptions towards social responsibility. A second pillar involved the development of models and guidelines for the design of curriculum with a social engagement component. A digital platform was also produced to serve as a resource center and contact point to promote dialogue between faculty working on these types of courses.

 

Finally, the project saw the development and testing of a Social Benchmarking Tool (SBT) to assess and compare academic institutions according to their social missions. Together, these three pillars aimed to sharpen the understanding of social responsibility in academic institutions as well as enhance this feature in the partner institutions.

 

On November 21st, ESPRIT project partners and invited guests representing different higher education stakeholders, gathered at the ESU headquarters in Brussels, for a final roundtable to discuss the project’s outcomes and its relevance for Israel and Europe. A number of important themes emerged from this meeting shedding further light on the potential of academic social responsibility efforts in Israel, Europe and beyond.

 

The Social responsibility of universities – promoting a wide definition

Recognisant of the wide-ranging interpretations of social responsibility as it relates to higher education, one of the very first tasks of the ESPRIT consortium was to draft a working definition which would guide its activities and objectives.  The notion of social responsibility was given a wide interpretation – relating to the university’s external actions on the one hand, and its internal policy on the other. A university’s social responsibility is reflected in its community outreach programmes, ‘socially engaged’ courses, partnerships and actions benefiting their surrounding neighborhoods and society in general. It should also be apparent in the institution’s internal functioning; ethical codes, transparency, employment policies, sustainable development etc; and relating to student, staff and faculty wellbeing.

 

During the roundtable, the challenge of promoting social responsibility in the internal domain was considered. Participants highlighted the fact that the internal social policy is often more difficult to discuss and promote, while academic institutions more easily disseminate their ‘external’ actions of community engagement and public responsibility.  Yet, project partners emphasized the importance of seeing the internal and external domains as one common framework; a university’s degree of social responsibility is dependent on both its external and internal actions- they should be understood as intertwined, not as separate entities.

 

Benchmarking University Social Responsibility – An opportunity

Rankings and Benchmarking mechanisms have been gaining momentum in the field of higher education. These systems are primarily focused on the research and teaching functions of universities, generally overlooking their “third mission”. The ESPRIT project aims to add another dimension to benchmarking; one which recognizes that alongside research and teaching, institutions should also be measured by their social characteristics.

 

The Social Benchmarking Tool (SBT) was initiated by the National Union of Israeli Students against the backdrop of a growing social awareness and engagement amongst Israeli students. NUIS representatives understood that students and prospective students are increasingly interested in the degree of social engagement and responsibility in their current or potential academic institutions. The SBT was thus perceived as valuable to provide a transparent picture of the social responsibility feature of universities as well as for offering university management with a self-assessment tool to enhance their social policy.

 

The SBT proposes a data collection mechanism for academic institutions to assess their social policy and compare where they stand vis a vis other institutions. The self-administered questionnaire collects data from a variety of sources within the institution and relates to different features of social responsibility-equality, wellbeing, ethical conduct and environmental policy.

 

The value and innovative character of the SBT for both Israeli and European partner institutions was emphasized. From both a student and institutional perspective, the SBT was discussed as holding important potential for furthering the social functions of universities. Participants also considered the challenges involved in promoting such a mechanism, in particular considering the priority given to the research and teaching functions of higher education. A conceptual shift was proposed in which social responsibility should not be understood as a “third pillar”, rather as an inherent feature of all other functions of higher education.

 

Importance of the student voice in enhancing social responsibility

The importance of student involvement in the promotion of social responsibility was a common theme elaborated throughout the project. The ESPRIT project was founded upon the notion that both students and institutions will inevitably play a part in strengthening the social role of academia. As such, project activities were guided by a university-student alliance, reflected in the active involvement of both the National Union of Israeli Students and the European Students’ Union.

 

The importance of the student voice was re-iterated during the roundtable. Student Union representatives highlighted the fact that there is often a disconnect between student and faculty/staff perceptions on a wide variety of issues, including those related to social responsibility. Working together on these matters offers a valuable bridge to close the perception gap and provides a mutually beneficial and effective framework. The significance of this partnership was also evoked by university representatives at the meeting, who stressed the important breakthrough of the ESPRIT project in this regard, particularly in the Israeli context.

 

The questions raised in the Tempus-ESPRIT project are of international relevance and will undoubtedly continue to be debated and elaborated in the years to come. The project provided EU and Israeli partner institutions the benefit of mutual learning and discussion on crucial questions of social responsibility in the academic realm. While the university/student alliance is vital to promoting an effective social responsibility agenda, the cooperation between institutions, student unions and different countries is also valued. These collaborations deepen the discussion on important issues relevant to higher education stakeholders and to society as a whole.

 

 

Hannah Moscovitz is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel). Hannah works as part of the Tempus-ESPRIT coordinating team at the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

 


[i] Project partners include: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; Interdisciplinary Center Herzlyia; Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Tel-Hai Academic College; University of Brighton; Center for Higher Education, Consult; Masaryk University; University of Santiago de Compostela.

COMMENT

Recent Articles

The Politics of Higher Education Tuition Fees and Subsidies

Published on by | Comments Off
Garritzmann_BookCover

Julian L. Garritzmann Students in Finland and Germany study free of charge. In the U.S. and in Japan, in contrast, they pay tremendous tuition fees, leading to often six-digit student debt amounts after graduation. At the same time, most students in Finland and in the U.S. receive public financial student aid, while the majority of […]

Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers

Published on by | Comments Off
Press conference on the Bratislava declaration. From left: Sarah Glück, author of the declaration; Carlos Moedas, Commissioner; Peter Plavcan, Slovak Minister; Emilia Petrikova and Miguel Jorge, authors of the declaration. Photo credits: EU2016 SK.

Sarah Glück and Charoula Tzanakou[i]   “Researchers love what they do. It is not entirely clear to us that the systems in which we work love us.” (Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers)   How can we attract young students to a career in science and how can we retain them? Those were the leading questions […]

Knowledge politics and policies section @ ECPR 2016

Published on by | Comments Off
Section chair Mitchell Young. Photo credits: Meng-Hsuan Chou

Martina Vukasovic The 2016 edition of the General Conference of ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) took place in Prague, 7-10 September 2016. Approximately 2000 participants presented their most recent work in political science, policy analysis, public administration and related areas of inquiry in almost 70 different sections. The newly formed ECPR Standing Group on […]

Knowledge Policies and the State of Inequality: Instruments For or Against?

Published on by | Comments Off
Martina_IPSA

Jens Jungblut The 24th World Congress of Political Science organized by the International Political Science Association (IPSA) took place from July 23 until July 28 2016 under the title “Politics in a World of Inequality”. The conference was held in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (Poland) and around 3000 participants, mainly from […]

Towards a transnational politics of higher education

Published on by | Comments Off
Routledge Transnational Politics of HE

Meng-Hsuan Chou, Isaac Kamola & Tamson Pietsch Across the world, higher education is rapidly changing. Universities are increasingly seen as key engines of a ‘knowledge economy’, producing the innovation and the workers crucial to new industries. Driven by rankings that claim to measure ‘world-class’ status, and by the incentives and liberalised regulations of national governments, […]

Quantifying Interdisciplinarity in the Face of Uncertainty

Published on by | Comments Off

María del Carmen Calatrava Interdisciplinarity has become a major topic in discussions of higher education structures, knowledge production and research funding. The demand for criteria and tools for its evaluation is subsequently increasing. Interdisciplinary research can be evaluated according to its many different aspects—including collaboration, integration of disciplines, generation of new areas of research or […]

Hidden from the Eye – Learning Practices to Coordinate European Research Policy

Published on by | Comments Off

Merli Tamtik Despite long-lasting resistance from the member-states and the unwillingness to yield power ‘naturally’ to the supra-national level (Gornitzka, 2009), the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation has established itself as a leader in coordinating European research policy. How do we explain this emerging role of the European Commission in shaping European research […]

Austerity, impact and divided Europe of Knowledge

Published on by | Comments Off

Inga Ulnicane ‘Crisis should not be wasted’. Since the beginning of the global economic crisis in 2008, this idea has been repeated many times suggesting that crisis should rather be used as an opportunity for innovative solutions and necessary reforms. One of such potential changes emphasized by European institutions has been prioritization of research and […]

Wrapping up the UACES CRN on the European Research Area: Summary of the final workshop

Published on by | Comments Off
Jens Jungblut & Pauline Ravinet (Photo credit: Mari Elken)

Mari Elken and Jens Jungblut On the 3rd and 4th of March 2016, the European Research Area collaborative research network (CRN) had its final workshop at the Directorate General for Research & Innovation of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. Building on the diverse activities and encompassing research that has been conducted within the framework […]

What is higher education regionalism? And how should we study it?

Published on by | Comments Off

Meng-Hsuan Chou and Pauline Ravinet Higher education is undeniably global. But this did not prevent interested policy actors, meeting on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of the University of Vienna in 2015, to emphasise the significance of the global and international dimension, as their colleagues have done at the 800th anniversary of the University […]

Subscribe to a fortnightly email featuring posts from Ideas on Europe hosted blogs

UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.