O.P. Jindal Global University’s Founding Vice Chancellor, Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar spoke at the prestigious 2019 Global University Leaders Council meeting held in Hamburg, Germany. The forum was organized to initiate a dialogue among global university leaders on key current challenges that national higher education systems around the world are confronted with, particularly with regard to evolution of the relationship between universities and the society at large.
The Council brought together 45 presidents, vice chancellors and rectors of leading global universities and was co-organised by the German Rectors’ Conference, the Körber Foundation, and the Universität Hamburg during 5-7 June 2019. It is notable that O.P. Jindal Global University was the only Indian higher education institution that was represented in this Council. The first Council was hosted in June 2015, followed by the second one in June 2017 and the third one in June 2019, which gathered university leaders from the leading research universities of the world from 30 countries.
Professor C. Raj Kumar, Founding Vice Chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University in India was invited to chair one of the five thematic sessions entitled: “Universities for the Common Good”. The session focussed on the concept of the public or common good, which was a widely accepted, evident compass for university – society relations. However, it was recognised that the fuller implications of the idea of common good has been somewhat undermined in today’s context.
Professor Kumar observed that, “Universities need to reimagine their institutional identity on the basis of a shared understanding of the common good. It is necessary that universities assert their autonomy and independence not just on the basis of curriculum and pedagogy, but also on the basis of a larger sense of responsibility towards fulfilling the common good. This recognition of the common good becomes the raison d’etre of universities around the world.”
Professor Kumar while chairing the session on “Universities for the Common Good”, observed that, “the five critical elements of the common good that are necessary for universities to embrace for the future: first, universities should be working towards the pursuit of knowledge and its dissemination through research that will improve the lives of people; second, universities should be engaged in education in the form of teaching and learning that will enable and empower the young people towards the development of enlightened global citizenship; third, universities should be engaged in the pursuit of speaking truth to power through intellectual rigour, objective analysis and evidence-based research that will help in building informed citizenry and impact policy-making; fourth, universities should be aligning the vision of contributing towards fulfilling the common good to the mission of institutional excellence so that what universities do is measured in line with this purpose and objective; fifth, universities should provide individual and institutional leadership in recognising the importance of pursuing common good and work towards developing societal consensus among all stakeholders, including the government, private sector and the civil society.”
While presenting the Chair’s report to the full Council, Professor Kumar observed that, “the pursuit of common good for universities need to be integrated into the vision and mission statements of universities. There has to be a deeper recognition that the demands, expectations and aspirations of societies from the universities can be better achieved by the fulfilment of the common good.”
During a discussion on the importance of liberal arts and the study of humanities in general, Professor Kumar lamented about the growing threat for liberal studies around the world. He said that “we cannot build democratic and inclusive societies without having a foundational understanding of liberal ideas in our higher education system. Regardless of the discipline or programme of study, universities have a duty and responsibility to foster the study of humanities to all its students. Critical thinking and the pursuit of interdisciplinary education in all programmes is a sine qua non of higher education reforms. It is important for countries around the world to invest in the pursuit of liberal and broad based education for developing and inculcating among its young populace shared ideals of global citizenship and cosmopolitanism.”
The Global University Leaders Council Hamburg reflected on the challenges, which include threats to university autonomy and academic freedom, conflicting theories of the university and education, questions of access to higher education and the financing of university teaching and research. These issues were discussed in the context of the five thematic sessions: The dynamics of university-society relations; Society? Which society; The University’s value propositions; Partnerships and networks; and Universities for the common good. The Council acts as a forum for discussions on the core mission of the university in a globalised higher education landscape.
It is worthwhile to mention that in December 2015, the International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building (IIHEd) of JGU drafted the “Sonipat Declaration on World-Class Universities in BRICS and Emerging Economies” and initiated consensus on the declaration among representatives from higher educational institutions across the world at the BRICS and Emerging Economies Universities Summit on “Why emerging economies need world-class universities”. The Declaration draws consensus across six key principles that will guide the creation and development of world-class universities: the pursuit of knowledge and promotion of innovation; highest qualities of students, faculty, and staff; highest research standards; appropriate resources for universities to achieve greatness; environment for free enquiry and career development; and enhancing the quality of teaching and research through local and global connections.
There are many overlaps between the Sonipat Declaration and the Hamburg Declaration in terms of addressing the key challenges faced by universities today.
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