The International Association of Universities (IAU) recently held its annual conference in Kuala Lumpur with a focus on partnerships for societal impact. Some 300 delegates were present from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and from Brazil to Uganda. The European contingent notably included a strong delegation of Spanish academic leaders, as well as several rectors from Albania, Ireland, Italy and Romania.
IAU’s objective in setting this focus was to invite participants, and more generally the global higher education community, to reflect on our responsibility in gearing education and research towards addressing societal needs and challenges and, importantly, in this way, helping to articulate solutions for the future.
Multiple examples of different forms of partnerships from all around the globe were presented and discussed during the event. Hence participants were able to reflect on a broad range of diverse forms in which universities were able to address societal needs, while also posing the question of the extent to which higher education could be considered as a global common good.
Among the themes addressed in the various breakout sessions were the importance of responsible research, and how internationalisation can contribute to societal development. The importance of community engagement, and how to address financing higher education for the global common good were also discussed. Other themes addressed were digital transformation, the importance of private sector engagement and, importantly, a key issue for the EUA, namely the growing importance of teaching and learning for societal impact.
“As one of the small number of Europeans present at this excellent, and thought-provoking event, it seems to me that Europe still has a lot to learn from many other parts of the world in terms of addressing societal impact,” said EUA Secretary General Lesley Wilson, who attended the event. “We need to think more broadly about how we, as the European higher education community, will be able to reach the goal of making higher education in Europe an essential partner in the global Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. This should be a call for action, and I hope that in future European universities will be up to the challenge. “