DCU’s Office of Civic Engagement this week hosted a summit meeting of the Council of Europe and the US-based Anchor Institutions Task Force on the local role of higher education.
The meeting, attended by 35 European and US University Presidents and senior administrators, addressed the urgent need to enhance the local mission of higher education in an era of political turmoil.
Ira Harkavy (University of Pennsylvania), who chairs the Anchor Institutions Task Force, stated that the meeting on ‘How can higher education meet the challenges to democracy?’ is “most timely and significant. The importance, indeed the centrality, of colleges and universities has never been clearer. The challenges to democracy are serious and growing. How higher education responds to these challenges at the local levels, as well as nationally and globally, will significantly determine whether we will be able to create and sustain diverse, inclusive, and just democratic societies. That is the burning issue that we will be addressing.”
The importance of higher education as a public good was stressed by all participants. And, in an era when right wing xenophobia threatens hard-won democratic gains, higher education needs to stress the importance of democratic citizenship.
Topics dealt with included the challenging situation of the Central European University in Hungary and the big strides toward civic engagement by the universities in South Africa.
There was also a focus on local initiatives such as the work of Queen’s University, Belfast in Sandy Row and the work of DCU in the Community.
Sjur Bergan, Head of Higher Education at the Council of Europe, noted in his address that “Universities provide students with competences that qualify them for the labour market, encourage them to be active citizens in democratic societies, and further their personal development. Higher education institutions often play important national roles, but sometimes perhaps they are less tuned to their role as members of their local communities.”
In welcoming delagates, DCU President, Prof Brian MacCraith, commented that “Engagement, in all its facets, is central to our mission at DCU. For example, we have recently moved to establish a ‘University of Sanctuary’, moved by the engagement of our staff and students with the educational needs of immigrants and refugees. We are very mindful of our impact on the local community. We are totally committed to diversity and inclusion. DCU does not just ‘talk the talk’, we aim to ‘walk the walk’”.