24 May 2017

It’s not enough for universities do good in global and local terms, they must also explain to the public how and why they create benefit, Dr Ahmad M Hasnah, President of Hamad bin Khalifa University tells conference delegates.

Speaking at a Going Global 2017 panel session on ‘Social good: Academic rhetoric or business reality?’ he said that universities needed to improve how they joined political discussions on the challenges of globalisation.

“I don’t think universities are doing enough,” he said, adding that higher education institutions tended to assume that the public understood the indirect benefits of globalisation.

Such an ‘under assumption’ led universities to misread the debate.

Shirley Atkinson, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said: “We need to be very careful that we don’t continue to be perceived as the elite and benefitting from the global economy at the expense of those who don’t.”

Both speakers went on to give examples of how their universities are working on socially beneficial programmes at both local and international levels.

Professor Paul Boyle, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester, gave reference to his university non-profit partnerships with institutions in Iraq and Ethiopia, spreading both faculty knowledge and practical assistance. He stated that such international engagement was a natural part of a university programme. “Our students expect that of us, not just our staff and our neighbours,” he said.

Professor Derrick Swartz, Vice-Chancellor, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa said: “Social good imperatives should be at least in part linked to issues of inequality, promoting social justice and advancing social development of the human condition.”

Often universities would pursue local social goals that were “uncoupled from global priorities” and that universities should “somehow figure how to balance” the priorities.

“Social good initiatives should best be located within both local and global goals of universities,” he said.

Patti McGill Peterson, presidential advisor for global initiatives at the American Council on Education, USA, responded to a question on why global good has only been discussed in economic terms. She acknowledged the wider qualities that speakers touched on, and although universities were increasingly under pressure to justify their work in economic terms, this did not mean the benefits were limited to this measurement.

Global engagement brought new perspectives into students’ lives and played an important part of the university’s role of developing character. This would have effects on priorities and for future knowledge development.

The difficulty was for universities to balance the ‘core work’ of educating students with “the fact that they cannot live by thought alone, that they need jobs, that the university has to promote those aspects.”

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