Universities in Africa will benefit from a massive open online course that has been launched by the University Social Responsibility Network (USRN), which aims to promote understanding of how universities could better fulfil the societal expectations of higher education teaching and research.
Speaking during the University Social Responsibility Summit 2021, which has been organised virtually by the University of Pretoria and will take place until 5 February, Dr Fernando Palacio, a member of the organising committee and a senior lecturer at Kyoto University in Japan, said the massive open online course (MOOC) will lay the theoretical framework of how universities globally could go about community engagements.
“The course will examine how universities on all continents could create innovative new ways to increase their footprint on social responsibility in their respective communities,” said Dr Palacio.
According to Dr Palacio, and his associate Dr Nikan Sadehvandi, the project manager of the new MOOC at the Centre for the Promotion of Excellence in Higher Education at Kyoto University, more is required of the universities, beyond their historical functions of academic responsibility.
The five-week course, “The Introduction to University Social Responsibility”, first mooted in 2018, was developed through the joint effort of six universities that are members of the USRN.
Those universities are: Hong Kong Polytechnic, Manchester University, Sao Paulo University, New South Wales University, Kyoto University and the University of Pretoria.
The course will be embedded on the edx.org platform.
New ideas on social responsibility
The MOOC, expected to take off on 17 February, will be a flagship initiative of the network as it will explore the foundations of the new mission of social responsibility in higher education in matters of societal and community partnership.
Launching the project during the first day of the summit, Professor 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 network, 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.
In one of its key studies, ‘University Social Responsibility and Quality of Life: A global survey of concepts and experiences’, the network argues that, in recent years, there have emerged unmet demands of great expectations of contemporary higher educational organisations by the general public.
“Given the market-driven nature of university education, a natural and reasonable concern is its social responsibility towards the community it serves,” pointed out Professor Daniel Tan Lei Shek, the vice president of research and innovation at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in a study, “USR Network: A platform to promote university social responsibility”.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University is one of the founder members of the network while the group has a membership of 16 universities across the world.
The others are: Beijing Normal University, China; Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, UK; Kyoto University, Japan; Peking University, China; Sichuan University, China; Simon Fraser University in Canada; University of Manchester, UK; Tufts University in Massachusetts in the US; Yonsei University in South Korea; the University of Haifa, Israel; University of New South Wales in Australia; University of Pretoria, South Africa; University of São Paulo in Brazil; Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, US, and Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Kazakhstan.
All universities can benefit
The MOOC is set to provide momentum to many institutions that may not be formal members of the USRN, but are already promoting a culture of social responsibility. The Central University of Technology (CUT) and Durban University of Technology (DUT), both in South Africa, are part of this group.
In a study, ‘Can Universities of Technology in South Africa Achieve Transformation by Promoting a Culture of Social Responsibility Among Academic and Student Agents’, Elisha Markus, a lecturer at the department of electrical, electronic and computer engineering, CUT, and Nereshnee Govender, manager at the Writing Centre at DUT built a case of how technical universities in South Africa can promote social responsibility agenda.
So far, CUT has drafted a social responsibility framework whereby students are encouraged to participate in local community projects, in particular if they can apply their education and technical skills.
“To make an impact on local communities, CUT will demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility by making available expertise and infrastructure for community service programmes,” said Markus, quoting the institution’s engagement strategy report.
DUT has also developed a social responsibility strategy roadmap on how it plans to make a positive impact on society by 2030.
According to the two researchers, DUT is also trying to understand how to ensure that its principles and values of social responsibility will be reflected in the institutional culture and practices.
It is with these challenges that the new MOOC could assist.
Highlighting the importance of the MOOC, Dr Sadehvandi, who will be one of the instructors, said some of the course units will be on the rationale, mission, organisational structure and strategy of the network as well as the strengths and challenges of the existing partnership approach.
“We will provide a knowledge base for designing, planning, implementing, and evaluating programmes from the fundamentals of university social responsibility and good practices,” said Dr Sadehvandi.
Beyond teaching the theory of university social responsibility and how the network operates, the MOOC will teach how universities can impact on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through research partnerships and volunteering in local communities.
Amid efforts to address inequality among the local communities, Dr Sadehvandi explained there would be sessions on a wide range of issues such as art and culture, gender equity and disaster management.
“There will also be a session on universities’ response to COVID-19,” said Dr Sadehvandi.
University World News is a media partner of the University of Pretoria as the co-host of the social responsibility summit. The virtual conference, titled ‘University Social Responsibility: Priorities for the next decade’, will be hosted until 5 February by the University of Pretoria and the University Social Responsibility Network. To register for the summit, please go to: University Social Responsibility Network.