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Social change impact, a pre-requisite for Universities worldwide

Nairobi, Kenya Current Affairs February 2 @ 8:14am

The global pandemic has seen various key players spring up to action to provide services to save populations from the deadly virus. Civil organizations, the medical fraternity, religious bodies, donors, and researchers among many others have continuously united to show humanity and social change.
Academia too has played a pivotal role in terms of research, but how about social change? Did universities across the world plug in to help bring social change impact? Well, this only communicates deeply to higher learning institutions globally.
A webinar organized by University World News in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation last week revealed rich insights about the need to train students across the world on social change impact in communities and societies.
Moderated by Brendan O’Malley, University World News Managing Editor, the panelists agreed that Universities should make social impact part of their mission.
Lorlene Hoyt, the Executive Director of Talloires Network of Engaged Universities simply defines social impact as a call for action to contribute to the well-being of others.
According to Lorlene, “Universities should make social impact part of the mission for the society’s sake to remain relevant and institutional leadership is a vital step. We support the research missions and teaching missions of the universities and we also use various approaches like community-based research, service-learning, experiential learning, and volunteerism. Other forms of civic engagement that have a social impact are policy-making, political activism, and social entrepreneurship”,
She gave an example of how a University in Mexico joined forces with the government agencies to involve young people in a variety of food security projects as it was a pressing issue in their local communities as a social impact practice.
Hilligje Vant Land, Secretary-General of the International Association of Universities explained that universities today are at a turning point where they can use expertise development, but they have to look at how the expertise makes sense in society.
The panelists also delved into the issue of university rankings across the world. It was discussed that universities should strongly emphasize working together to address the challenges society faces today. “Competition between universities cannot serve communities for development; in as much as universities vary in specificity they have different roles that connect them to the global level,” Lorlene Hoyt said.
However, Maha Haidar Makki, Director of the Master Card Foundation at the American University of Beirut (AUB) argued that rankings have played the roles of recognition of universities. “I would argue that social impact occurs organically to various degrees, it happens through research agendas, science and technologies, knowledge and skills and cultures and values of the universities,” she said.
"We attract students because of our ability to train them to solve real-world problems. I think collaborations such as the Talloires Network, the master card foundation scholars program will keep on playing a huge role in supporting social impact in higher education institutions”, Makki added.
On matters regarding how to tackle social change inequity and building social solidarity, a student participant noted that working with the SDGs (for instance SDG 4 quality education or SDG10 reduced inequalities) can provide a good orientation and connection to the local and global policy level - and thus communities.
The participant expounded that when it comes to the SDGs no 'one size fits all' solution should be suggested, as university systems and practices are different around the globe.
Maryam Mohiuddin, Founder, and Director of Social Innovation Lab, Lahore (Pakistan) said that looking at communities as equals and partners is an important aspect for universities. Maha added that partnerships between universities make learning a long term vision.
“The minute we get off our high horse and treat each other as equals, Ubuntu…I am because you are…. is the minute we start taking social solidarity as no longer a question”, Maryam said.
Maha explained the MasterCard scholars program offers scholarships to young students in Africa and refugees in Lebanon to ensure equity." As an institution, we believe that through this program we are addressing equity issues because we are ensuring access to the universities not only for the economic elite, the advantaged, and the more privileged, but we are opening the door and having the voice for everyone".
Hilligje Vant Land articulated that there is a framework for universities to tackle inequity across the globe. The framework offers the opportunity to envisage a future with more disciplinarily opportunities to connect the knowledge systems around the world because it requires for connection between the local and global on poverty issues, security issues, and justice.
While the MasterCard program through scholarships has benefited students in different ways, Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM); a network of 129 universities from 38 African countries is currently working with its universities to advance social impact.
With funding from the MasterCard Foundation, the forum is reaching out to 250K farmers, producing products and enterprises from undergraduate and graduate students. The products are then put into the market from social ventures, supporting smallholder farmers in Africa to access technologies and innovations to yield productivity and advance community action research within the universities. Also, the aim is to improve teaching and learning especially service-based learning through supporting refugees in northern Uganda for instance.
With the world now devising various learning models for higher institutions, universities ought to train students extensively on social change impact for the sake of communities.
Further submissions revealed various ways in which universities can encourage students to become agents of change.
Students in higher learning institutions can become agents of transformative change through opportunities that provide social entrepreneurship mentorship, through civic engagements, transformative leadership, and capacity building programs, volunteering opportunities as well as mentorship programs and implementation of community-based projects.
"We can learn very much from Costa Rica where each student engaging in the university has to give back eight hundred hours of volunteer time to society which, is amazing and it allows to understand how you anchor your being into the society which you live and it has a due effect, "said Hilligje Vant Land, Secretary-General of the International Association of Universities.
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