Around the world, an “invisible revolution” is occurring, with the engaged university replacing the ivory tower. Institutions but also professors and students are contributing to this movement both through classwork and research. Global patterns are mirroring the situation in the United States.
The movement is simultaneously achieving 3 results:
1. Engaged university activity in curriculum and research is educating students to be agents of change in such issues as poverty, the environment, and public health.
2. Improving societal conditions: presently there are over 100 million university students worldwide, and this is expected to reach 200 million by 2030. Increasing strategic community work has resulted in huge increases in manpower and expertise.
3. As a result of 1 and 2, public support for higher education has become elevated. This has been particularly important in developing countries with limited public funds and undercapitalized educational systems.
The Talloires Network produced a book, The Engaged University, with case studies of 20 international universities. Overall observations were that a common vision and common strategy transcends major differences in context and institutional type. A fundamental articulated mission/vision/strategy for engaged university work is quite similar across countries, and this is likely due to similar needs in these countries. There are two primary goals of missions around the world: having a positive impact on community conditions, and educating leaders for change. The mix and balance of institutions varies. A major element is extensive investment in community partnerships. Lots of effort is put into organization and maintenance of these partnerships. When talking about the future, engaged universities plan on more engagement. Future plans generally include more collaboration, more interaction and joint effort both with other universities and across sectors. They also plan on more activity in concert with NGOs and government agencies.
Factors driving what happens in individual countries and institutions include institutional leadership and skill at bridging relationship with other sectors, financial constraints–which may lead to limitations but also to creative solutions, and government policies re. student engagement. Often, less prestigious universities are less constrained by tradition so are more likely to innovate. External demands by the community as well as student expectations and student-led community initiatives are increasing community service efforts.
The Talloires Network was created to support this trend of engagement but also to highlight other universities’ efforts. Although the Talloires Network seeks to provide some motivation, universities’ motivation to become engaged is often due to what is happening in their communities. Therefore, the Talloires Network also acts as a data source for university engagement.
The Talloires Network is an international coalition with a secretariat located at Tufts University and guided by an international steering committee. Its founding conference in Talloires, France was attended by 29 university heads in 23 countries; today there are 250 university members in 62 countries–representing a total of 6 million students. To join, the head of the institution must make a formal commitment to the original Talloires Declaration. The Network is now looking to advance the trend of loose global networks with regional networks in Asia, Australia, Latin America, Ireland, South Africa, and the Middle East.
Summit on University Social Responsibility was held in November 2012 at Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute. The university, with 35,000 students, just instituted a new degree requirement for students to take a community service learning course. The Summit was co-hosted by several universities. At present, there are only 4 Chinese members of the Talloires Network, and all are in Hong Kong. As China’s government begins to express more of an interest in university civic involvement, and more connections are created, it is likely that more Chinese universities will join. The network reflected strong student initiatives and a palpable sense of energy toward positive social change, coupled with a strong entrepreneurial vision.
Rankings of colleges and universities focus only on scholarship, not on service. This may be a disincentive for some universities. Participation by highly-ranked, highly-publicized universities may help to change this. University participation is also complicated because a university is not monolithic. Community service participation often consists of work being done by individuals on different levels.
In the United States, exemplar members include Arizona State, which sought to develop ways to contribute local and state priorities re. public education, and also to chart a global presence and leadership in research. Syracuse University has shifted its focus, repositioning itself relative to its community and making institutional changes to improve its contributions to the community. It has also incorporated scholarly products, being inclusive of evaluating faculty work that goes beyond peer-reviewed publication. Its strong reputation may help Syracuse have a major impact on the movement.
Internationally, Catholic University in Santiago, Chile has created partnerships with ten poorer municipalities in its metropolitan area, with formal arrangements created for university students to plan projects that meet local policy and planning needs. This initiative has been funded by the government.