The International Association of Universities (IAU) is hosting its 16th General Conference on 25-28 October in Dublin, Ireland on the theme of ‘Relevance and value of universities to future society’ and it opens with a plenary on the ‘transformative power of higher education’.
University World News here interviews IAU President Pam Fredman, a professor of neuroscience and a former vice-chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, on the role universities can play in transforming society and why this needs to be backed up by a merit system that recognises the value of engagement with society as well as impact on society.
It will require funding agencies and governments to rethink some of the pressures they place on universities which hinder them from embracing a transformative mission.
University World News is the media partner for the IAU meeting. To participate, you can register here.
UWN: The opening plenary at your Dublin conference (26 October, 9am) is about ‘The transformative power of higher education’, but what do you want to transform?
PF: It is about transforming the whole of society, transformation to create a sustainable future – we have to see that we actually have a planet for the coming generations – and universities have a unique role in providing knowledge but also competence, which is the driving force for that change.
Universities very much face pressure from society and government to deliver competence for today’s needs. But that is not only what universities are for.
While we are developing individuals with competence to meet the needs of the day, we also want to develop them to be transformers in society. We have to give them the skills they need to be part of that transformation.
UWN: When you say they are to become transformers, what change will they seek to catalyse?
PF: In Agenda 2030 [for Sustainable Development] – the 17 goals and 169 targets UN members agreed for achieving a sustainable world without poverty and inequality, a world of peaceful, just, inclusive societies with shared prosperity and decent work for all – we have a very strong platform and a driving force.
And of course when we get to 2030, we will have to go beyond. We must seek transformation in all parts of the world to achieve sustainability. It means we have to do something about climate change, deal with our energy problems, move to remove poverty and change authoritarian regimes that are de-democratising, which is not a good thing for sustainability.
Some people think sustainability is just about climate change, but it is about that and so much more – about social justice and fairness, for instance. That is why we have established a global cluster for higher education for sustainable development at IAU, a university network where we recognise that all the SDGs are interconnected.