‘What are universities good for?’ The University Social Responsibility Network (USRN) and the University of Pretoria successfully co-host the first digital International University Social Responsibility Summit
4 Mar 2021
Universities have a mission to discover their own strengths in order to improve their contributions to society. This was the overarching sentiment at the three-day International University Social Responsibility (USR) Summit for 2021 that was virtually co-hosted by the University Social Responsibility Network (USRN) and the University of Pretoria.
The summit is a biennial flagship event of the USRN, which was founded by PolyU in 2015 with the aim of bringing together thought leaders to exchange ideas, resources, and practices of varied scope and scale to steer global discussion and the development of USR in higher education. The broader conversations also covered topics such as the transformation of higher education institutions and innovation.
The conference, which took place from 3 to 5 February 2021, provided more than 21 hours of earnest discussion, with contributions from more than 70 academics, students and practitioners from 27 institutions and 14 countries. Participants shared ideas on how social responsibility programmes and projects can be used in innovative and meaningful ways within the university community and the broader society within which the institutions operate.
Dr Miranda Lou, Co-Chair of the University Social Responsibility Network Executive Committee and Executive Vice President of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Prof. Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria officiated at the launch of the Summit in the morning of 3 February (South Africa time).
Dr Lou noted in her welcome address that the pandemic reminded us at this time of global crisis when the world is in crisis, people are vulnerable, and the educational model is under tremendous pressure, that we should reflect on the essence of university social responsibility. “Let us seize the opportunities amid the current crisis to further advocate for broader social responsibility in higher education; to find solutions to make our communities more just, inclusive, peaceful and sustainable; and to co-create a world we and the next generation deserve.” Dr Lou urged.
Introducing the topic of the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the higher education sector, Prof. Angelina Yuen-Tsang, Hon. Professor in the Department of Applied Social Sciences and former Vice President (Student and Global Affairs) at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, spoke on the theme ‘The transformative power of higher education in fostering global connectedness and solidarity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic’ in her keynote address.
“Every time there is a crisis, there is opportunity. I believe that it was Winston Churchill who, after World War Two, said: ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’. I also like the statement by former statesman Nelson Mandela, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’. I see the pandemic as an opportunity, even though it has caused great destruction in our world, to our families, communities and universities. I think we should look at it from a positive angle, and try to see how we can make use of this crisis as a way to transform the world and to change education,” Prof. Yuen-Tsang said.
A massive open online course (MOOC) on “Introduction to University Social Responsibility” was also launched on the first day of the Summit and the teaching commenced on 17 February on the edX platform. This four-week MOOC was developed through the joint efforts of seven USRN member universities. The course explores the foundations of the new mission of social responsibility in higher education in matters of societal and community partnership. Prof. Toru Iiyoshi, the director of the Centre for the Promotion of Excellence in Higher Education at Kyoto University, said it was a big day for the USRN whose aims include providing fresh ideas about social responsibility in universities. “Our key message through the new MOOC is that university social responsibility should be adopted as a progressive management system for pursuing sustainability,” said Prof. Iiyoshi.
The three-day Summit concluded on 5 February 2021.
USR Summit 2021 Special Report on University World News: https://www.universityworldnews.com/special-report.php?publication=africa&report=USRSummit21