The social impact of universities

Today’s society faces many challenges. Globalisation, migration, climate change and political change create a world in transition. In the post-truth society, universities have an important role to play in formulating answers to societal challenges. Universities, both at the level of the institution as well as at the level of the individual researcher, have the responsibility to bring into focus these many challenges and issues. Universities need to be committed to actively join and influence the social debate. Academia should substantively fuel this debate by analyzing facts and social phenomena and by working out and providing answers and solutions to burning societal issues.

The social effects of universities are far-reaching and take many forms. Science and research are continuously being converted into societal, industrial and economic solutions and play a major role in economic and social innovation. This ranges from public policy, over economic development, health, environmental issues, up to ethical and political questions.

This not only opens up a broad range of opportunities, but in return requires a large responsibility towards society as well.

The social impact of universities goes beyond the boundaries of scientific fields, disciplines and institutions, but also those of national borders. Therefore, international cooperation is a key factor when it comes to generating social impact.

This round table discussion aims to go more deeply into the question of how to better shape the social dimension of higher education policies and how to broaden the contribution of universities to equality, social mobility and economic and industrial development.

The digital revolution hits universities

Digitalization is in the forefront of our daily lives, but although universities educate the technology experts of tomorrow, keeping up with the ever evolving digital developments is a constant challenge. Universities have difficulties in competing with large digital players such as Facebook, Google or Apple when it comes to hiring the top specialists they have educated. However, universities need a sound digital strategy to achieve their objectives and to keep playing a leading role in an interconnected world.

Because of increasing global competition, universities need to be ready to embrace the potential of technology. Digital technologies should be seized upon to enhance learning, teaching, research and global engagement. Not all initiatives need to be ground-breaking, but it is clear that universities should explore the various ways in which digital technology can have a major impact on research and on higher education through the managing of research processes and the improvement of pedagogical approaches.

Digitalization offers huge opportunities for universities. In addition, there are clear risks for those who do not seize the opportunities that comes with it. They run the risk of being left behind and missing the huge potential of the digital future.

This discussion, introduced by Peter Hinssen, focuses on the question of how we can incorporate the digital age in the world of higher education, aiming to innovate and enhance higher education and research.

Strategic academic partnerships in times of increased competition

International strategic partnerships are high on the agenda of institutions and governments. To succeed in the increasing competitive field of internationalization, higher education institutions tend to approach international collaboration more and more strategically. Institutions are becoming more selective about whom to partner with and for what purpose. This tendency towards more strategic partnerships leads to the need for specific institutional partnership policies, and for the accurate management of these partnerships.

But when is a partnership deemed to be “strategic”? It appears that there are many institutional and regional differences in what is considered a strategic partnership. What greatly matters, is the level and the sustainability of the activities involved. More and more institutions tend to deepen their existing collaborations and reduce the number of inactive cooperation agreements. Others target on specific regional or academic areas.

The type and scope of activities that are included in partnerships is also a much debated issue. Student and staff mobility dominates the activities included in partnerships, but research cooperation, teaching collaboration, joint and double degrees as well as capacity building show an upward trend.

This round table discussion aims to untangle the different types of strategic partnerships. The discussion will go more deeply into aspects such as decision-making, partnership evaluation, funding, and how to incorporate these elements in our internationalization policies.