Special Reports – Africa Edition
USR Summit 2021

Towards the creation of socially responsible universities

The international virtual summit, “University Social Responsibility: Priorities for the next decade”, was hosted from 3-5 February by the University of Pretoria and the global University Social Responsibility Network. Participants deliberated on a future in which the academic responsibility of societal service becomes increasingly embedded in the missions of all institutions as a core commitment of students and staff to the community and a measure of their standing. University World News is a media partner.
PHOTO A profound change is taking place in our understanding of the mission of higher education. Increasingly, we have realised that academic freedom must be accompanied by the exercise of academic responsibility, in the sense of making a contribution to civil society. Actively responding to societal challenges is one way of doing so – as many universities have demonstrated in the case of COVID-19.
PHOTO The University of Pretoria’s civic engagement unit is working with the department of family medicine to provide shelter and therapies to homeless people, recovering drug abusers and elderly people in communities hit by high rates of crime and deprivation on the university’s doorstep.
A good communications strategy is critical to promote the public understanding of university social responsibility initiatives, and is a key factor in increasing the impact of these projects on society. This could also counter perceptions that institutions are more interested in gathering research data than in community well-being.
Are African universities part of the oppressive economic, political and social superstructure in the continent? Who owns those universities? Do they know their students? How do they treat them and relate to them? What do they teach them? What is the future of those universities?
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