The Indian Social Work Congress is an initiative of National Association of Professional Social Workers in India (NAPSWI). The third Congress, held between 24 and 26 October 2015 in Ladnun, Rajasthan, marked the silver jubilee of Jain Vishva Bharati University.
The Indian Social Work Congress brings the fraternity of professional social workers together to discuss and deliberate upon the issues related to social work education, practice and research in India. Dr. Rajesh Tandon, as UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, was invited to give the keynote address to open the Congress.
In his keynote speech, Dr Tandon spoke of the need for higher educational institutions to become socially responsible and to promote respectful community-university research partnerships. He reminded the audience, particularly young social work students, that the social work profession today needs to redefine its contemporary identity. As a profession, social work is more than an academic discipline; it has a body of knowledge and a methodology of practice which is unique to its professional identity. The central identity of the profession of social work is to prepare informed and active citizens who engage to make society and its governance democratic and accountable. To ensure this, the current and new professionals in social work need to create mechanisms for benchmarking and upholding standards of learning and practice.
The 2015 MFF-NAPSWI Scholarship were also awarded on the first day of the Congress. The scholarships were awarded to Akhila Besty George and Navprabhat Singh by well-known social activist Aruna Roy. Aruna dedicated her speech to Martha, acknowledging her as a rare person who pursued her commitments fearlessly. It seemed appropriate the first scholarships that take forward Martha’s legacy, who was a victim of senseless violence herself, should be awarded at an institution whose founding disciplines were Jain philosophy and non-violence.
Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, and President, PRIA, was invited for a special lecture on ‘Social Responsibility in Higher Education Institutions’, at Mysore University, Karnataka on September 8, 2015. The lecture was organized by the Department of Studies in Economics and Co-operation, Mysore University, and hosted by Dr Indira Mahendravada, Professor, Department of Economics. The audience included faculty from various departments such as Sociology, Social Work, Women’s Studies, Commerce etc. Apart from this, university students too attended the lecture in large numbers.
Pic: Dr Rajesh Tandon, delivering the lecture in Mysore University
Dr Tandon began the lecture by outlining the importance of social responsibility. He shared that, ‘social responsibility of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is not about planting trees on a Sunday or cleaning garbage of a slum on Saturday. Social responsibility is about doing research in a responsible and responsive manner; it is about respecting local practitioner knowledge.’
In realizing the goals of social responsibility and putting words into action, Dr Tandon accorded most importance to the role of students and teachers. Further to this, he especially called on the students to undertake initiatives for achieving meaningful learning opportunities. In doing this, he shared that, ‘the students need to take responsibility for their own learning. They need to look at the curriculum and pedagogy and say if it makes sense to them. Passive students in university are wasting opportunity’. Dr Tandon also articulated about the crucial role, the university teachers play in this process. He said that, ‘teachers need to stimulate and challenge students for collective, social and individual learning; if students can become active learners–lifelong and life wide– then the purpose of higher education is served well.’
Pic: Students and faculties at the lecture
Linking pedagogics and social responsibility, Dr Tandon shared that, ‘Socially responsible teaching is to encourage students to become active learners, to challenge them to get out of their zones of comfort and confront reality around them, to look at societal challenges as learning opportunities.’
Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education & President, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) delivered a lecture on the implications of participatory research in academic institutions, at the Department of Sociology, Barkatullah University, Bhopal on August 28, 2015. Professor S K Chaudhary, Director, IGRMS, Bhopal, graced the event as a chief guest. Among other eminent dignitaries present were Professor Udai Jain, Ex-Vice-Chancellor, APS University, Rewa who was the guest of honour and Dr Yogesh Kumar, Executive Director, Samarthan (a Bhopal based civil society organization). The event was hosted by Professor S N Chaudhary from the Rajiv Gandhi Chair in Contemporary Studies, Barkatullah University.
Addressing the dignitaries, and eminent academics, Dr Tandon began the lecture by outlining the context amidst which participatory research in social sciences acquired importance and relevance. He said that ‘despite enormous complexity of social realities in the country, social science research has become largely irrelevant today, as students undertaking masters and doctoral level research confine themselves to libraries; or their topics are essentially ‘rehash’ already known themes and topics’. Pic 1: Dr Rajesh Tandon, delivering the lecture in Barkatullah University, Bhopal.
Referring to the historical context, Dr Tandon shared that, ‘While participatory research (PR) methodologies did get acceptance in academia in early 1990s, they have not been adequately utilised by students and researchers.’ Further, he stated that, ‘the key constraint for this seems to be the absence of long-term trusting relationships with communities. As a result, Higher education institutions (HEIs) continue to be seen as distant and alien by local communities and civil society actors’.
In view of this, Dr Tandon re-iterated that ‘concerted efforts need to be made to promote learning and practice of PR in social sciences’. On how to go about such efforts, he shared that ‘certain intermediary civil society organisations can act as a bridge between universities and communities’. In view of this, he called on Bartkatullah University and Samarthan to take a lead in re-energizing efforts on this front, while hoping that the University institutionalizes this cooperation ‘to make the practice of PR more central to various social science faculties."
This was then followed by a round of general discussions on the topic, wherein the participants shared their views, and explored opportunities to expand this area of work in the future. In the end, a vote of thanks was given by Dr Yogesh Kumar from Samarthan, and Dr Tandon was felicitated with a token of appreciation.
Pic 2: Discussions & deliberations during the session
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.
The UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education organized an educational visit to DEI on the 11th of April’ 2015. The delegates who visited the institute, as part of the team, included Dr Budd Hall & Dr Rajesh Tandon, (Co-Chairs, UNESCO Chair), Dr Cristina Escrigas, Project Development Advisor, Global Universities Network for Innovation (GUNi), Dr Carol Ma, Associate Director, Office of Service Learning, Lingnan University, HongKong, Ms. Mabel Fok, Senior Manager, Deloitte China, Dr Andrea Vargiu, University of Sassari, Italy and Mr Walter Lepore, Research Scholar, University of Victoria, Canada, and Ms. Wafa Singh, India Coordinator, UNESCO Chair. Dr Anand Mohan, Professor, DEI, coordinated this visit and organized planned visits to the different faculties at the university, as the delegation was briefed about the university functions and activities in a methodical manner. Dr Mohan also presented all the members of the delegation with hand woven bags and bed sheets as a token gift from the university.
The UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education conducted a symposium on ‘Mainstreaming University-Community Research Partnerships’ on the 9th of April, 2015, at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. This symposium primarily focused on the practices of CURP across the world. Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education set the stage by introducing the chair, introducing the context, its relevance and the Chair’s activity in India. Thereafter, Dr Budd Hall, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair, shared the findings of the IDRC sponsored study recently undertaken by the UNESCO Chair which focused on ‘Strengthening Community University Research Partnerships’. He touched the major emerging findings from the 12 countries in which this study was undertaken. This session further witnessed sharing of regional experiences, in the form of Dr Carol Ma, which showcased her experience from East Asia, Mr Denis Dambois gave an account of his European Union experiences, while Dr Anindya Chatterjee elaborated on the contribution made by the International Development Research Centre towards promoting such partnerships. Prof B L Mungekar, who was the respective chair for the session provided an outline on the broader perspective of community engagement and how it is viewed in India, in particular. Following the session, were open discussions which saw the participants sharing their local experiences, in addition to providing some concrete action points to be taken forward from the symposium.
The second session of the day focused on sharing the findings of the Indian study conducted by the UNESCO Chair, in association with the British Council, India on ‘Community Engagement in Higher Education Institutions’. Therefore, this session had a couple of speakers from the host universities where this study was undertaken, viz., Dr Ronki Ram from Punjab University and Dr Pahi Saikia from Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, who shared the findings from Punjab & Assam on the state-of-the-art- of practices of community engagement. Additionally, Dr Devi Prasad from TISS Mumbai shared his perspectives on the topic and brought to the forefront certain key issues which need to be addressed. Prof Furqan Qamar, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities who was the chair of the session, presented a brief overview on Indian HEIs and the scope of integration of community engagement within the regular curriculum. This session again concluded with an open discussion, which saw extensive deliberations, particularly focusing on the Indian education framework, the constraints, challenges with respect to community engagement and action points for future.
The proceedings for 10th April began with a PRIA-logue between Dr. Rajesh Tandon and Prof. Budd Hall in PRIA itself. The session was an interactive one wherein these two stalwarts discussed what participatory research in action is and what is its future. The audience we enthralled by their recollections of how they chose participatory research (or rather how participatory research chose them). Similar accounts of others’ encounters that led them to community-based participatory research were also recounted by various members in the audience.
This was followed by a series of presentations by various members who have been actively involved in Participatory Research. Mr. Walter Lepore from University of Victoria, Canada gave a presentation on ‘Global Status of Capacity Building on Participatory Research’ which was based on the findings of the global survey on the same. This survey was conducted as a part of the Next-Gen Project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Govt. of Canada. This was followed by a presentation by Dr. Andrea Vargiu from University of Sassari, Italy on ‘Teaching Participatory Research: Issues and Challenges’.
After lunch, there was a panel discussion on ‘Mobilising Resources for Building Capacity in Community-based Participatory Research’. The members of the panel discussion brought in viewpoints from different geographical locations as well as different sectors. Dr. Cristina Escrigas shared her experiences from Europe as an Advisor in the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi) in Barcelona. Similarly Dr. Carol Ma shared her experiences from East Asia as the Associate-Director of Service-Learning (OSL) in Lingnan University, Hong Kong, China. Mr. Jagadananda, Member Secretary, Centre for Youth & Social Development (CYSD), Odisha, India shared his experiences as being a part of the civil society in India. Finally, Dr. Surajit Sarkar, Associated Professor in Ambedkar University, Delhi, shared his experiences as being part of the novel initiative called Centre for Community Knowledge in his University.
Centre for Research in Social Sciences & Education, Jain University, Bengaluru 18th & 19th of March’2015
“There is a need to develop suitable policies, initiate effective programs and evaluate the performance through an instrument such as social audit”: Dr PS Jayaramu, Former Dean & professor of Political Science (retd.), Bangalore University.
“Community Engagement & curricula needs to be seen as mutually inclusive, rather than exclusive”: Dr Cherian Alexander, St Joseph’s College, Bangalore
“What is being done is significant, but what still needs to be done is more significant. There is a need for innovation on a social platform, and continuous efforts aimed at the development of global citizens. We must create an enabling ecosystem in an informal climate, where there is considerable room for dynamism”: Dr MK Sridhar, Dean of Commerce and Management, Bangalore University
“The need of the hour is not of changing any policy, but changing mindsets”: Dr Shailaja Shastri, Professor, Jain University
“Community Engagement is not a gratis; it is a duty”: Professor SS Meenakshisundaram, Vice-Chairperson, MYRADA
“It is important to realize that the benefit, learnings and impacts emerging out of community engagement activities is mutually beneficial for both the communities and the universities”: Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education.
The UNESCO Chair partnered with CERSSE, Jain University (in association with the British Council), for the conduction of a one and a half conference on ‘Strengthening Community Engagement in Higher Education Institutions’ on the 18th & 19th of March’2015, at CERSSE, Bengaluru. The conference was a follow up event to the two month long exercise on mapping of community engagement practices in the HEIs in the state of Karnataka. Primarily, HEIs spanning the districts of Bengaluru, Mysore, Tumkur and Kanakpura were covered in the survey.
The conference saw the convergence of a range of stakeholders drawn from various fields of work such as the academia (including the students, teachers, and vice-chancellors), civil society organizations, policy makers etc. It served as the platform for extensive deliberations between the participants for one and a half days. The conference began by an introductory note given by Dr Mythili P Rao, Dean of Languages, Jain University, as she welcomed the guests and the esteemed panelists. This introduction was followed by an address by Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. Dr Tandon attempted to provide the overall perspective on the topic, the expectations from the HEIs, principles of engagement, perspective of the 12th Plan on fostering social responsibility in HEIs, etc. Dr Tandon put before the participants the context, rationale and relevance of the topic at hand. The inaugural address of the event was given by Dr BK Chandrashekhar, Former Education Minister, Government of Karnataka. Dr Chandrashekhar provided the broad overview of the topic and spoke of his personal reflections on the same. He touched on certain pertinent and structural issues, such as the opportunities for integration of community engagement in the academic curriculum. He welcomed the initiative and outlined the importance of engaging in community engagement initiatives. The presidential address for the event was given by Dr N Sundarajan, wherein he briefly provided an outline of how Jain University has been doing its bit in taking the initiative forward.
The introductory session was followed by the launch of the draft report on the community engagement practices in HEIs in Karnataka, a collation of findings from the survey done under the project. Thereupon, the findings of the survey were jointly presented in the first plenary session by Dr Reetika Syal, Assistant professor, CERSSE and Ms. Nayantara Kurpad, Research Assistant CERSSE. Through a brief presentation, they put for the key points which emerged from the survey. They touched upon the findings from colleges such as Christ, Kristu Jayanti, St Joseph’s etc. Comments on the findings were provided by Dr Indira Mahendravada from Mysore University and Dr PS Jayaramu from Bangalore University, who served as discussants for the session. The session was chaired by Professor RS Deshpande, Former Director, Institute for Social and Economic Change. They touched on pertinent questions such as the degree and nature of engagement practices shared, institutional barriers, and opportunities for mainstreaming.
The third plenary session was aimed at a dedicated discussion on the Forms & Structures of Community Engagement. Chaired by the Professor K Eresi, Former Dean of Commerce, Bangalore University, the session began with a presentation by Ms. Wafa Singh, Program Officer, PRIA, who reflected on the experiences from the three other states covered under this project, viz, Punjab, Bengal and Assam. Along with providing a global and Indian perspective on community engagement, she outlined the unique initiatives emerging from the respective state based surveys. She also shared the trends that emerged from the findings and the ways forward for the future. Dr Sandeep Shastri, Pro-VC, Jain University and Director, CERSSE touched on issues beyond Jain University, and emphasized on the broader mandate of the initiative, which was not limited to social surveys only. He stressed on the importance of contextualization of the mandate, and the need to venture beyond classroom boundaries. He also advocated for increased interaction among different stakeholders. Mr Johny Joseph, Director, Centre for Social Action (CSA), Christ University stressed on the core values of community engagement and the role it plays in shaping the professional careers of the students. Likewise, Mr Sreedhar PD, NSS Head, Kristu Jayanti College broadly outlined the activities undertaken in his college as part of NSS/NCC and various other social outreach/extension initiatives. Along with the presentation, Mr Sreedhar also raised structural issues which had practical implications for community engagement. He called for solutions for better mainstreaming of such activities into the university curriculum, and for it more value oriented, rather than mechanically driven. Dr Cherian Alexander, from St Jospeh’s College, Bengaluru, who served as the discussant for the session, shared some of the key issues which emerged from the deliberations of the session. He re-emphasized the importance of regional specificities, advocacy of the issue at different platforms, need to deal with resource constraints, poor service delivery from the side of the government, etc. He stressed on the need to initiate a dialogue with the community for coming to terms with their particular value systems and sensitivities, before embarking on an engagement process with them.
The third plenary session was followed by an additional panel discussion on the same theme, focusing on experiences specifically from the Bangalore district. Chaired by Dr MK Sridhar, Dean of Commerce and Management, Bangalore University, this session witnessed some eminent speakers such as Dr BC Prabhakar, Director, IQAC, Bangalore University, Dr Clement D Souza, Welfare Officer, St Joseph’s college and Dr Basavaraja G., NSS Coordinator, Tumkur University. While Dr Prabhakar outlined the relevance of higher education to the society and the importance of students applying theoretical knowledge in the field; Prof D Souza spoke of Institutional Social Responsibility (ISR) and how his college has been applying this principle in different spheres. Dr Basavaraja brought the participants attention to the issue of how the semester system and rigid academic schedule proved to be a major hindrance for community engagement activities. Dr Meera Chakavarthy, Adjunct Professor, Jain University who served as the discussant for the session, summed up by saying that ‘All of us are responsible in one way or the other for achieving community engagement. It is equally essential for us to look at social justice issues as well.’ Dr Sridhar commented on the rigidity of the HEI framework, where there is no room for experimentation or innovation. He therefore, called for the need to make students step out of the classrooms, explore new vistas of engagement, and inculcate leadership qualities in them. He cited the example of Bangalore University, as a model one, which provides credit for NSS/NCC activities, which can be followed by other HEIs as well.
The second day of the conference opened with a session wholly dedicated to the student’s perspective on community engagement, and their experiences of the same. The session saw students from Jain University and St Joseph’s College, providing a brief account of the activities undertaken by them and their expectation from their respective colleges, universities. While they were engaged in good work, it was heartening to see that they looked forward to more support from their institutions and integration of this activity as part of the academic curriculum. They were also in favour of community engagement being made a compulsory part of their curricula, as one of the students put it, ‘There is nothing bad in making the students do some good out of compulsion’. This session was chaired by Ms. Bindu Subramanium, Director, Subramanium Academy for Performing Arts, Bengaluru. She too voiced her opinion in favour of having community engagement integrated across varied disciplines of study.
This was then followed by the third plenary session on ‘Policy Implications’, which was chaired by Dr Jayagopal Uchil, Director, Planning & Administration, Jain University. The speakers for the session included Professor Shireen Nedungadi, Principal, National College Bengaluru, Ms. Pinky Chandran, Coordinator, Radio Active, and Professor SS Meenakshisundaram, Vice-Chairperson, Myrada. Professor Nedungadi shared her views on how to make the syllabi a liitle more strengthening for community engagement. She shared that while Karnataka looked to transform itself into a knowledge society, we also need to pay heed to the issue of heterogeneity of identities, structures and institutions. She called for more freedom and flexibility in the designing of curriculum, which serves as the key instrument to help students move into the society. She also called for the need to integrate indigenous knowledge systems with elitist knowledge systems, and the cross-linkage among different streams of study. Ms. Chandran shared her experiences of Radio Active, a community radio station and gave a brief account on how they looked at integrating community voice, community campus partnerships and participatory research. She also spoke of their collaboration with various stakeholders and attempting to seek solutions to problems in a participatory manner. Professor Meenakshisundaram categorically called on the HEIs to take the reign into their hands and take the first step forward in integrating community engagement into the academic curriculum. He also emphasized the need to institutionalize synergize all efforts in one direction. Dr Shailaja Shastri, Professor, Jain University, who served as the discussant for the session emphasized on the need to be more solution oriented, in light of the issue at hand. She suggested certain concrete action points pertaining to the bringing about a change in the education system, for making it more facilitative towards community engagement, rather than restraining. She suggested the integration of engagement efforts by the provision of credits, recognizing the community engagement work done by the students who apply to universities, opportunities for budgeting research into teaching and learning, etc. She also called for sharing of resources between the universities and the communities, so that knowledge does not remain the premise of the former alone.
Picture 1: Ms Pinky Chandran, Coodinator, RadioActive; Professor SS Meenakshisundaram, Vice-Chairperson, MYRADA; Dr Jayagopal Uchil, Director, Planning & Academics, Jain University; Professor Shireen Nedungadi, Principal, National College, Bengaluru (left to right)
The closing session of the conference, themed as ‘Ways forward’ aimed at seeking key answers to crucial questions and coming up with pertinent doable action points for every stakeholder in the future. The session began with an overview of the entire one and a half day event by Dr Rajani Jairam, Director, IQAC, Jain University, who precisely covered the key points which emerged from the discussions. The valedictory remark for the session was delivered by Mr BG Nandakumar, Commissioner of Collegiate Education, Government of Karnataka. As he represented the policy front at the event, he welcomed the ideas and novel initiative and promised all institutional support for similar activities in the future, and for a more detailed mapping of community engagement practices in the state. He stressed on the importance of higher education in shaping the society and therefore, credited this effort as being a great one in and in the right direction. He also looked forward to the recommendations that emerged from the event and pledged to include it in the state higher education policy. Concluding the event, Dr Rajesh Tandon briefed the participants with his closing thoughts and comments from what emerged out of the one and a half day deliberations. He shared that most importantly, we need to come out of the ‘We-They’ framework, and see the process as a bidirectional one. He also shared that the engagement process should cut across disciplines and not be limited or ghettoized into a couple of disciplines alone. He suggested the creation of a Community of Practice (CoP) in Bangalore, or an alliance of concerned stakeholders, who are interested in taking the movement forward. According to Dr Tandon, it was equally essential to create mechanisms for assessing the mutual impacts, which could the pave the way for mutual learning.
University’s Perspective: Prof Meenakshi Gopinath, Mentor and Former Principal, Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi
“In the wake of this new scheme, it is incumbent for us to seize this opportunity, for it is for the first time that Participatory Research has entered the domain of Higher Education. Today, we are looking at participatory publics and seeking the creation of the concept of global citizens. It needs to be seen as to how we can melt these two concepts in this scheme.”
“Can we begin to envisage what we want to see at the end of the projects and then work backwards? Can we envision as to what we would like our universities to transform into at the end of this scheme?”
“If we are seeing this scheme as an opportunity to open up liberal space for discourse, then we have a historic role to play herein. Therefore, in this process, if we accord due importance to the fact that ‘why we are engaging in this particular way’, then this has the potentialities of going beyond this scheme.”
Civil Society’s Perspective: Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education
“If we perceive this Centre as a brick and mortar structure, it is bound to die, for want of oxygen for funding. However, if we visualize this three years as an opportunity wherein we can derive a set of resources and legitimacy from the UGC to promote an engagement in all disciplines, teaching and research, we would be moving in exactly the right direction in making this scheme eminently successful.”
“This scheme should be used an opportunity to see the universities as public spaces and the professors as public intellectuals. It is often observed that the convening power of the universities is underutilized. Therefore, considering its ability to gather multiple voices, this scheme should serve as a platform wherein differing perspectives are talked about, if not incorporated. For example, Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya (BPSMV) has provided space for dialogues for interventions including BPSMV, PRIA, panchayat leaders, community boys and girls, and university students alike.”
“The proposals can be built around local context and issues such as availability of water resources, ending violence against women, improving agricultural productivity, urban poverty etc, and then integrate the university’s function of teaching and research around such issues, incorporating community engagement For example, the issues of declining sex ratio and water scarcity in Bundelkhand region can be taken up and a proposal framed in a creative manner.”
Government’s Perspective: Dr Pankaj Mittal, Joint Secretary, University Grants Commission (UGC)
“We need to envisage it as an innovative scheme, which sees participation from each and every department of the respective university, as the broad mandate of the Centre positioned it as an inter-dependent unit and not a stand-alone one. Therefore, all departments of the universities would be connected to the Centre for all activities, while the infrastructure of the whole university would be available for use by the Centre, be it for space or people.”
“The UGC has been facing a shortage of good proposals, especially from the North Indian Universities. It strongly feels that good universities, with creative thoughts and innovative ideas should be provided adequate funding support.”
“If you want to build genuine partnerships and have a set of innovative and important themes, around which the proposal can be built, then the UGC through this scheme can demonstrate the true spirit of speech.”
Picture 1: Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, Dr Pankaj Mittal, Joint Secretary, UGC
The UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education in India, further expanded its academic outreach and entered into a partnership with the Bundelkhand University in Jhansi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. An MoU was signed with the University, in a small consultation held on the 12th of January’2015. The consultation provided a platform where a range of areas where community university engagement could be sought, was brainstormed and discussed upon.
Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair, laid the platform with his keynote speech, in which he emphasized the importance and relevance of a University connecting to the society around it. He underlined the importance of the University and the academic sphere recognizing, accepting and respecting the alternate knowledge forms residing within the community. The Bundelkhand region, in particular, has been marred with a number of problems such as gender imbalance, degradation of natural resources, such as water, unsustainable livelihood issues. Dr Tandon, in particular, emphasized that in was in the light of such issues in the surrounding community, that the role played by the university acquired assumed greater significance and prominence. He shared that if the knowledge acquired within the premises was infused into efforts such as joint researching with the community, also taking into account their indigenous knowledge, then a number of such problems could be countered with sustainable and long lasting solutions. In addition to this, Dr Tandon also outlined the importance of wholesome development of the students, a process in which they cannot be kept aloof from the realities of the society around them “It is essential that a University utilizes its resources, pedagogy and knowledge to serve the society, also utilizing the community knowledge in the bargain, which has sustained within the communities since the time in memorial and helped them traverse adverse conditions in historical times. Therefore, the university coming in sync with the people and their knowledge systems was of utmost importance in today’s times”, quoted Dr Tandon.
Complimenting Dr Tandon’s thoughts, Professor Avinash Chandra Pandey, Vice-Chancellor, Bundelkhand University also supported the idea of community university engagement, along with according due importance to it in the existent scenario. He shared that while the University continues to excel in the areas of teaching and research, it is equally committed to serve the society by expanding its third dimension of service which is ‘extension’. “A University cannot remain aloof from the society, and it is of utmost importance that we give back the knowledge acquired in the premises to the communities in the surroundings”, quoted Prof Pandey. He also voiced Dr Tandon’s ideas of working on the local issues, while looking to engage the community with the university, in an attempt to seek solutions to pressing problems. He shared that the problem of female and infanticide and declining sex ration is one such problem, which can be dealt with through meaningful engagement with the community. At the end, Professor Pandey reiterated the commitment of Bundelkhand University as a complete unit, in serving the society for the better, through all viable and possible means.
A step further in this direction has been that the University has volunteered to apply for establishing a Centre for fostering Social Responsibility and Community Engagement, under a recently launched University Grants Commission (UGC) Scheme. For this purpose, the respected Vice-Chancellor also deputed Dr Rochna Srivastava, Dean, Faculty of Arts to take further steps in this direction. A very important and significant component under this scheme, which distinguishes itself from other similar schemes, is the element of mutuality inbuilt in it. This Centre will ensure that the activities it embarks upon, is in response to the needs, requirements and the aspirations of the society, and not guised by opinionated versions of the University alone. UGC will be supporting the University, in its efforts by providing it with a financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 2.5 crore, over a period of three years. Herein, the UNESCO Chair has also volunteered to support the University in framing a good quality proposal for submission under this UGC Scheme.
The event also saw the launch of a campaign known as the ‘Kadam Badao Campaign’ (an initiative of PRIA), at the University an initiative PRIA. This is a youth lead campaign against violence against women, and has been taking place in several states in India, such as Haryana, Rajasthan, etc. This basic tenet of this campaign also involves engagement with the community, which is very much visible by the modalities it follows. While PRIA plays the role of a facilitator/supporter, the campaign is spearheaded by a core group, comprising of youths, both from the community and the university. They jointly decide on the propaganda, design and activities of the campaign, in assistance with many other such young boys and girls. This direct engagement with the community and the university opens up a plethora of opportunities for meaningful and relevant actions and is of special importance is seeking sustainable to critical local problems.
A one and a half day Education Dialogue, was held in the premises of Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati on the 17th and the 18th of September’ 2014. The event was organized by IIT-G, in collaboration with British council, ICSSR, and UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. The dialogue was organized with multiple aims including assessing current levels and quality of community engagement in Assam and other North Eastern regions, analyzing best practices and meanings of social responsibility as practiced in the North East, and to identify strategies to scale up community engagement as per the 12th five year plan.
The first day of the event had three distinct sessions. The day began with the inaugural session, wherein the welcome address was delivered by Dr Pahi Saikia, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), IIT-G. In her address, she extended a very warm welcome to the delegates and invited them for an engaged brain storming during the course of the consultation. The event was also graced by the presence of the Head of the Department, HSS, Dr Arupjyoti Saikia, who outlined the important role played by the department in offering an enabling environment for meaningful research under the realms of community engagement. He also recognized the vitality of such workshops as providing a fertile ground for sharing of rich experiences, along with providing a wealth of opportunities to learn and build lasting partnerships. Ms. Sujata Sen, Director, East India British Council presented a brief overview of the British Council portfolio in Higher Education and briefed the audience about different programs undertaken by the Council under different frameworks such as IHE (Internationalising Higher Education), UKIERI (UK-India Education Research Initiative) and SIEM (Services for International Education Marketing). Dr. Rajesh Tandon, Co-chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, set the stage for the dialogue and highlighted the need to internalise community engagement in all faculties as part of the curriculum, to incentivise it and include it as a criterion for accreditation of universities.
Picture 1: Dr Rajesh Tandon, delivering his address at the dialogue.
The first plenary session, ‘Trends in Assam’, was chaired by Professor Rakesh Gupta, Visiting professor of Political Science, IIT-G. Dr Pahi Saikia, shared and discussed the findings of a survey on community engagement in Higher Education Institutions in IIT-G, Gauhati University and Cotton College University. She shared the findings collated from various departments under the respective institutions, along with putting up some relevant questions. Dr Saikia’s presentation was followed by the address by Ms. Sarmistha Das, Assistant Professor, Tezpur University. As she shared the findings of Tezpur University, she stated categorically that in addition to the present efforts, the University has scope to offer a lot more, if crucial issues such as inclusion of such activities in the curriculum and API scores were dealt with more seriously. Following Ms. Sarmishta’s presentation, Dr Binayak Dutta and Dr Susmita Sen presented the findings from the survey done in the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Dr Dutta outlined the important role played by the Department of Political Science and Department of History, in discharging the understanding of community development and providing opportunities for community engagement. He said that the departments have tried to move beyond traditional research and made a foray into unconventional methods of teaching and research. Dr R K Debbarma from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati also shared the findings of the survey that was selectively focussed on only the MA courses that were offered in the disciplines of Social Work and Environment Ecology and Sustainable Development. He stated that there is still a lot of room for much more that could be done under the realm of community engagement in HEIs, including specific engagements aimed at mutual benefit. The sharing of the survey findings by the respective institutions was then followed by an open discussion session, which included comments from the audience, and comments from the chair, Prof. Rakesh Gupta.
Professor Dilip Baruah, Retired principal, Cotton College and Professor of Economics chaired the second plenary session on ‘Forms and Structures of Community Engagement’. As the first speaker for the session, Dr Ronki Ram, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Punjab University brought out the misconceptions that were prevalent in the academia with respect to community engagement in HEIs, and the need to clarify such doubts. He also mentioned about the one way flow of traffic with respect to flow of information from the academia to the community, with no efforts made to tap the latter’s indigenous knowledge. The next speaker for the session, Dr Mohammad Yasin, Head, Department of Lifelong Learning and Extension, North Bengal University, shared the experiences from Bengal, along with suggesting concrete points for future planning and action. He stated the abysmally low level of community engagement practices followed in the colleges and universities in Bengal, and the corresponding reasons for the same, such as lack of credits, financial resources and motivation. He also outlined the need for more such dialogues to be held in different parts of the country, in order to garner attention of the academia on the same.
Professor Girin Phukan, ICSSR National Fellow and Director, Institute of Tai Studies and Research mentioned the need to look at the overall socio economic system of our country, before focussing on community engagement in HEIs. He also brought the attention of the audience to the systemic fault lines within the HEIs of the country, which fulfilled class interest rather than community interest, thereby further limiting the scope of community engagement activities. Professor Dhrubajyoti Saikia, Vice-Chancellor, Cotton College State University brightened up the conversation by citing examples of students taking the lead in bringing about a positive change in the society. He also mentioned the importance of values and ethics imparted to students. Dr Saikia reiterated the commitment of Cotton College University towards fulfilling its responsibility towards the society, and building capacities of its students in a multitude of ways. Professor Apurba Jyoti Baruah, former professor of Political Science, NEHU and National Fellow, ICSSR, also pointed out to the fallacies in the higher education system, which has got commercialised with time. He also questioned the concept of ‘community’ and outlined the need to be careful while referring to it, because it may be heterogeneous, hierarchical and stratified. He also called out to the communities to now exercise their rights over the HEIs and demand services from them. The last segment of the session witnessed exhaustive deliberations, discussions and brainstorming on the various issues raised and the concerns highlighted in the course of the presentations made along the entire day.
Picture 2: Discussions and deliberations at the dialogue
The second and concluding day of the consultation began with the session moderated by Ms. Sujata Sen, Director, East India British Council, which saw concerns, issues and expectations raised by students of IIT-G. A number of them shared their personal experiences of working with the community in the field and outlined their expectation from the institution in providing them with a more enabling environment on the same. Ms Sen, based on the students reflections concluded that sensitivity towards community issues, bottlenecks in the system, and clear guidelines on the concept of ‘community engagement were some iof the issues which needed immediate attention.
This was followed by a session on ‘Policy implications’, chaired by Professor Arupjyoti Choudhary, Dean Academic, KKH University, Assam. Dr Mahfuza Rahman, Professor of Geography, Cotton College State University, brought the attention of the audience towards the understanding deficit prevalent at the ground level with respect to community engagement activities, which further got complicated due to lack of funding available. However, she reiterated that although challenging, social responsibility in academia must become a purpose. Dr Harendranath Das, Former Chief Secretary, Assam, apart from pointing out to the spatially limited efforts with respect to community engagement in HEIs, called out for joint collaboration between different state organizations, civil society groups such as PRIA, and academia to come on a common platform for fostering meaningful engagement activities. Professor Nani Gopal Mahanta, Professor of Political Science, Gauhati University also outlined the importance to tap the knowledge residing outside academic campuses and amidst the community, which can be both enriching and mutually beneficial. He cited the example of the activities undertaken under the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS), an initiative of the Political Science department of Gauhati University as being one of a kind example in this regard, which offered opportunity for round table conferences with community leaders. Professor Akhil Ranjan Dutta, Professor of Political Science, Gauhati University pointed towards the faulty governmental policies that has been creating a divide between the communities itself. He emphasized the need to focus on both the micro and the macro issues while looking at the broader framework.
The final session of the day on ‘Ways Forwards’, was chaired by Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-chair, UNESCO Chair on Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education’. ProfessorRakesh Gupta, as the first speaker called for a more robust partnership between the NGOs, HEIs and the community. He specifically called out to organisations like PRIA to help bridge the gap between the communities and the students through formation of self-representing organisations. Dr Pahi Saikia, restated the fact that any socially relevant research cannot be undertaken in isolation, and called out for the establishment of more interdisciplinary centres focused on such two-way research along with the communities. She cited the idea of conferment of ‘community engagement scholarships’, as being a positive step in ensuring meaningful engagement. Dr Rajesh Tandon, as he summed up the deliberations and the session, re-inforced the importance of giving due credit to the significant amount of knowledge that resides outside the campus while embarking on any research. He also mentioned about the need to outline institutional policies and practices in this regard, to have more focused and relevant community engagement activities within the HEIs.