08 April 2020

The UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education and PRIA co-convened a webinar on "Fostering Social Responsibility by Higher Education: COVID-19 and Beyond" with the Associationof Indian Universitieson 8 April 2020.

Dr. Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President of PRIA, Co-Chair UNESCO in Community based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education started the Webinar with his opening remarks that the main focus of Higher Education Institutions has been towards finding new mechanisms to complete the learning process that has been disrupted due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He raised the question what roles can students, faculty, staff and institutions of higher education play in response to COVID-19, both in the short and medium terms?

Prof Dinesh Singh, Chancellor, K. R. Mangalam University, former Vice Chancellor of University of Delhi began by sharing his personal belief that education is the ‘search for theself’. In this sense, he believes that Universitiesexist to provide platforms for the young minds to find their inner calling. This is where he believes the university’s engagements with the society can help. He believes that for one to find themselves, they must first understand the needs and challenges of the society and the nation. The current state of the education system in the country is one which is facilitated solely within the bounds of a classroom. There is a dire need to reorient the current curriculum such that the HEIs build themselves around the needs of the society, allowing for a more hands-on practical method of learning as well as adopting a trans-disciplinary approach. He reminded us about the relevance of the approach adopted by Mahatma Gandhi in linking head and the hands, learning while doing practical work. Linking knowledge and action together contributes to both enhanced learning and improved solutions for societal challenges. Prof Dinesh shared an example from his own experience of how such a practical approach helps in the growth of students. Under an Innovation Centre established under the University of Delhi, Prof Dinesh taught a course on B.Tech of Innovation with Mathematics. The coursework for the same consisted mostly of project work. During the course, the students read about a village in Aurangabad wherein around the clock water supply system had been built. The students then visited the village and studied the model. They went onto build a mathematical simulation of the same and created a start-up which provided the same system to other villages. Thus, a change in the curriculum could help in not only improving the learnings for the students but also help in the solving the problems of the communities. He also talked about the establishment of Smart Ashram, a symbolic overlap of tradition and modernity, at K. R. Mangalam University.

Prof. Aditya Malik, Vice Chancellor, K. R. Mangalam University spoke about the pan university transdisciplinary project on COVID 19. He explained that cluster of students of different disciplines are working together. It’s in the nature of this kind of pandemic that has encouraged and forced us to go beyond our disciplines. It’s through online teaching and online engagement of faculty with our students. We would like to continue it now throughout the semester and possibly come out with a publication and recommendations.

Many ideas, practices and queries were shared during the Webinar.It was suggested that in this situation of the pandemic, universities, colleges and other higher education institutions must demonstrate their social responsibility by mobilizing their huge intellectual, human and physical resources to respond in meaningful manners. Students and faculty can play a role in disseminating key information about COVID 19. Carrying out trans-disciplinary research post the crisis to understand repercussions of the pandemic is essential and important for dealing with future crises. HEIs can support frontline workers and local bodies by strengthening their capacities.

Dr. Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities, former Additional Secretary, UGC & Vice Chancellor, BPS University, Haryana highlighted the need to understand that the responsibility of the HEIs does not end solely by being responsible to the people within the boundaries of its campus, but rather there is a need to go beyond. She also discussed the possible avenue of aligning the existing courses with community engagement.

Prof. Anand Mohan, Registrar, Dayalbagh Educational Institution, Agra stresses that the goal of education is that of reaching the last, the least and thelost. While sharing the initiatives taken by DEI, he emphasized that there is also a need to be more humane and to think beyond oneself.

Dr. Neelima Gupta, Vice-Chancellor, Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University, Kanpur described some of the initiatives taken by her university. Dr. Gupta emphasized that this pandemic is not a one-day problem, rather it is a matter which will continue to persist and thus, it is critical to think beyond COVID-19, it is critical to analyse the aftermath of this pandemic on the community and ponder on what can be done on this matter.