Forging University Social Responsibility Through Community Engagement at Higher Education

Forging University Social Responsibility Through Community Engagement at Higher Education

Ndwakhulu Stephen Tshishonga (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2372-8.ch005

Abstract

This chapter interrogates the notion of community engagement or service learning. The chapter argues that universities pay lip service to community engagement to the detriment of teaching and research functionaries. Most prestige universities operate on the belief that it is only research that matters; hence, research is prioritized. Universities and their staff have adopted an ‘ivory tower' attitude. This modus operandi negates the reality that reliable knowledge could be produced through responsible community engagement and can become the source of empirical data that can be used for teaching and shared through publications. For universities to impact transformational change within and in their surroundings, community engagement should be elevated to equal teaching and learning.
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Introduction

Higher education sector is bestowed with certain social and academic responsibilities. Primordially, higher education was entrusted to human civilization, knowledge creation and molding members of society (Livingstone, 2016). These responsibilities make universities unique in their daily engagement with immediate stakeholders and broader society. Worldwide, institutions of higher learning are knowledge actors with the primary mandate of generating and disseminating knowledge for societal transformation. Higher education institutions are social institutions funded through public purse and as such are obliged to conduct their business in the manner that is academically and socially beneficial to the entire society (Tshishonga, 2019). At the core of higher education, are the three functions, namely learning and teaching, research and community engagement (service learning or community service). These functions reinforce each other in allowing universities to consolidate academic scholarship and further exercise their social and civil responsibility (Terevova & Sabolova, 2010 and El-Khasawneh, 2008). Balancing the key functions is fundamental as enormous expectation is put on university education to upskilling and further provide solutions to challenges facing the modern society (Shaikh, 2019).

This chapter is concerned about the third leg of community engagement as an integral part of university social responsibility. The chapter argues that paying lip service to community engagement has detrimental effects on effective teaching and research functionaries of the university. Most prestige universities operate on the belief that it is only research that matters hence research is prioritized. University operating on an ‘ivory tower’ mentality led to the adoption of ‘talk about what is going on, don’t get involved’ (Maurrasse, 2003, p. 29). The Ivory tower model further perpetuates the dislocation of university from the people who possessed the relative knowledge and understanding shaping scholarship (Makgoba & Chetty, 2010). This modus operandi negates the reality that reliable knowledge could be produced through responsible community engagement can become the source of empirical data which can be used for teaching and such information shared trough publications. For universities to impact transformational change within and in their surroundings, community engagement should be elevated to the same and even more level to teaching and learning as the key pillar (Tshishonga, 2019). Institutionalization of community service or engagement is not sufficient provided there is financial and human resources investment and commitment from all core higher education stakeholders. The chapter starts by laying the conceptual background on the notion of university and its responsibilities. The second section grounds community engagement theoretical exposition underpinned by university social responsibility as propounded by scholars such as Bokhari (2017); Giuffre & Ratto (2014); Tetrevota & Sabolova (2010) and Vasilescu, Brana, Epure & Baicu (2010). Thirdly, the chapter locates university social responsibility within the context of community of practice as the pragmatic foundation for practicing responsible community engagement. The notion of responsible community engagement was deliberated in section four followed by challenges faced by universities in implementing community engagement and service learning or

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge Society: Is a society that values and acknowledges the impactful role and contribution of knowledge in pursuit of socio-economic development.

Higher Education: Is an education that is provided mainly for universities, college or post-schooling students at institutions of higher learning, be they public or private.

Community engagement: Is one of the core university businesses to teaching and research and it is through community engagement or service learning that students are placed within organizations, government departments or community-based structures with the primary purposes of affording them to integrate theory into practice.

University Social Responsibility: Is a social responsibility model where universities exercise their ability and commitment to encourage students, and the academic staff provide social services to their local communities.

Community Service: Is service or services extended to the community in the form of community projects such as helping out in the local library, cleaning the environment or a park, assisting senior citizens, assisting children withier homework.

Social Responsibility: Is an ethical and moral duty undertaken by public, private, and civil society sectors and organizations to assist the needy people and communities.

University: Is an institution where intellectual scholarship is debated and knowledge based, and discourses are advanced through teaching, research and community engagement.

Institutions of Higher Learning: These are institutions created in order to offer higher level Knowledge, skills and competencies either through formal education or through placements and integrated education.

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