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Introducing the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, Centre for Global Studies

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Date(s) - 19/05/2021
9:00 pm

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The session begun with Dr. Oliver Schmidtke, Director, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria who introduced our Co-Chairs Dr. Budd Hall and Dr. Rajesh Tandon. Maeva Gauthier, the moderator for the session who is also the Research Assistant, UNESCO Chair in Community-based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education began the discussion by speaking of how the chair came into being and shared a brief timeline of the evolution of the chair. She spoke of the Global Alliance for Community Engaged Research created in 2008, Dr. Tandon’s honourary doctorate of law at University of Victoria, the launch of the UNESCO Chair in 2012 and the Knowledge for Change Consortium’s establishment in 2017 amongst other events.

Dr. Tandon then began his talk by sharing that the movement that we are part of has become particularly important in the post- pandemic context. Its not just about sharing knowledge globally, but also about sharing local innovations globally. Typically higher education institutions (HEIs) have three missions- teaching, research and service. The idea behind the “service” component as understood by most HEIs is to produce knowledge and expertise which can then be disseminated to the public as social responsibility. “Serviced learning” often confuses what’s more important- service or learning and whether the community actually needs the service or not. Service is seen independent of teaching and research, and students doing “public service” are then “ghettoised” in the category of “social work”. The research at HEIs never infuses any service while service doesn’t “infect” curriculum and pedagogy at HEIs. Dr. Tandon elucidated that issues related social development emerged in teaching and research after communities raised their voices and spoke against such issues; therefore  teaching and research are not independent of service and social responsibility has to be taught through an integrated process of all three missions.

There is a disconnect between issues affecting communities in practice and related subjects that are taught as part of curriculums at HEIs. Dr. Tandon highlighted that their impetus is to overcome this gap and create a relationship which is mutually supportive and accountable. Social responsibility in the true sense refers to the process when curriculum is carried out in a societally engaged manner, where learners contribute to societal well- being while studying those subject areas. Lifelong learning is for many publics of society, not just for “professionals”. Within this approach, researchers need to acknowledge that universities and HEIs are not the only sites of knowledge production; they need to respect knowledge in community, build on it and draw what can be deployed in a respectful manner. The idea is to add value to that knowledge, that is used to bring out changes in the lives of those communities in addition to publishing the research in journals and showcasing studies at conferences.

The enterprise of knowledge production through CBPR partnerships builds local capacities of communities. Knowledge democracy entails multiple shapes of curriculums from multiple contexts and shaped by various languages. It encompasses that there are multiple epistemologies and multiple methods of knowledge production, mobilisation and validation. HEIs are not just producers of economic engines, they are sites of learning with underlying principles of solidarity, dialogue and evolving societal values. They are supported  by society and therefore accountable to society.

Dr. Hall took this illuminating discussion further, stating that there is new visibility to this palette of knowledges, where we have had to paint our survival as human beings from an equity, climate, democratic point of view. The knowledge base from a euro-centric view is insufficient for us to survive. We must value epistemological diversity and bring more balance to knowledge diversity. Knowledge democracy can be institutionalised and in this regard, the Chair has made substantial strides towards policy contributions and advocacy for the same. The UNESCO Draft Recommendation on Open Science is a normative standard setting instrument for creating openness in science and the Chair organised 11 international webinar series with over 800 participants to contribute to this recommendation, which is going to be approved in the UNESCO General Conference, 2021.

Western European forces have used the soft power of knowledge to replace other knowledges with “suitable” perspectives supporting the imperial world and its actions. The first way to decolonise knowledge is to decolonise ourselves, who we listen to and what we read. Second, although recognition of indigenous knowledges is gaining momentum in HEIs, that’s not the same as recognising the global epistemological cafeteria of knowledge and such debates are already taking place. Third, it is an interesting aspect of human psychology that when people realise that others are changing and change is taking place presently, they are more likely to change. So the Co-Chairs invade as many spaces as possible, and introduce this alternative language of knowledges and pluriversity and use ground based stories to tell people that change is presently taking place. Fourth, persistence is key and without persisting, change wont take place to the extent that we want. Finally, its important to remember that change takes time. Dr. Tandon passionately added that “we are not alone; our struggle is a global consortium of local struggles of knowledge democracy”.

Find Dr. Tandon’s ppt here.

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