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6th Higher Education in the World Report focuses on dual responsibilities of universities on local and global scale

14 March 2017

The 6th Higher Education in the World report (HEIW), “Towards a Socially Responsible University: Balancing the Global with the Local,” is now available for download.

Presented on 10 March 2017 in Barcelona, Spain by the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi), the report contains contributions from 86 experts from 28 countries including Francesc Xavier Grau Vidal, Professor of Fluid Mechanics and former Rector of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain.

Professor Grau Vidal was the non-Executive Director of GUNi from 2014 to 2016 and served as the leader of the 6th HEIW Editorial Team. Professor Grau Vidal talks about the report and the dual responsibilities of universities on a local and global scale.

What are the key messages of the 6th HEIW Report?
The 6th HEIW Report deals with the dual responsibilities of universities on a local and global scale, exploring the potential conflict, or intrinsic difficulties, in addressing both the local demands of society based on the race for global competitiveness and local and global demands to contribute to a more equitable and sustainable society. Like many other organisations today, higher education institutions (HEIs) are under intense pressure, coming especially from “local” demands, but HEIs have also the singular responsibility of helping to contribute to overcoming the global challenges of the world, which are very well summarised by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

HEIW6 discusses these tensions, and re-interrogates the characteristics of the contemporary HEI. What accounts for the changing role of the university, the increasing demands on and for higher education, and the processes of massification and globalisation? To what extent is the experience of so-called world-class universities casting a shadow internationally on higher education, with positive and perverse implications? To what extent are the demands that higher education act as the engine of the economy and of social change also reshaping higher education? How are these different aspects reconciled, and/or are they resolvable? 

HEIW6 focuses on providing practical examples of structures and processes so that higher education leaders and the wider academy, policy makers and decision takers, and societal stakeholders will support a process of organisational development in a manner that enables HEIs to better respond to the various challenges and expectations relating to this dual level of engagement from a policy and institutional perspective. The final objective is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of this global and local engagement, and to produce a set of recommendations to strengthen the contribution of HEIs and systems to both local and global demands and requirements.

Why did you choose the topic of socially responsible universities - balancing the global with the local?
HEIs have a central role in the knowledge-based economy and, thus, in the global competitiveness of nations and regions. There is a big amount of ongoing efforts related with the regional/national engagement of HEIs, under the form of conferences, workshops, journals and books. What has not been studied yet is the compatibility of this engagement with the global HEIs’ responsibilities. Universities are, in the end, global institutions by definition. They can be more or less rooted to their place, but their standards, references and impacts have global character. Moreover, the global challenges have such an urgency that one can easily have the feeling that HEIs are too absent from the global arena. Is not only an emerging issue but an urgent one. In fact, the topic is beginning to appear more and more in HE international meetings and conferences (see, for instance, The Vienna Communique 2015: “Global Universities and their Regional Impact”; the discussions on the LACHEC 2016 conference about Glocal Universities or the forthcoming 2017 EAIE Forum on Regionalisation and Internationalisation of Universities).

What conclusions would you highlight? 
More than 80 experts from around the world have contributed to a dissection of the topic and the identification of good practices that can help academic leaders and policy-makers to realize the highest purposes of education and research. The contributions follow the structure of the report which is divided into nine chapters (1. Changing role of HEIs in light of globalisation; 2. Reframing the curriculum; 3. Global knowledge and responsible research; 4. Institutional governance, organisation and management; 5. Glocal HEI’s engagement and ethic implications? 6. Incentivising institutions, faculty and students; 8. Impacts; and 9. Resourcing) but each of them is independent and stands on its own, offering a rich panorama of analysis, conclusions and, especially, recommendations. 

Ultimately, the attitude required of an HEI is to be fully engaged and to reflect this engagement in its vision and mission, and in its daily activity. Universities need to be key institutions at the regional level. They must seek to develop immediate society through teaching, research, and knowledge transfer, and involve themselves in establishing regional strategy in conjunction with the local authorities, social agents and civic representatives. But they must also aspire to be globally engaged institutions that educate open-minded, critical and aware citizens, and through their research activity help to define global lines of action leading to a fair and sustainable world.

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