Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
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Social responsibility is no longer a ‘fashionable’ term when it comes to education, especially within the realm of higher education. Over time, it has become an inherent part of many universities, globally, side-by-side with the more traditional mission and understanding of the institutions. More so, considering that their roles are expanding in engaging with the community at large. In other words, higher education is part and parcel on the community in co-learning and co-creating knowledge that forms part of education, in particular with higher education. This is clearly demonstrated in the various chapters in this volume. Most interesting is that it spans across the globe, illustrating its relevance as an important element in the new construct of higher education, moving forward. Simply put, higher education has moved from the metaphor of an ivory tower to that which is more democratic, people-centred and equitable.

That said, to do a foreword for a book as comprehensive as this is no easy task. Not only is it rich with new concepts and ideas, it is also enriched by many examples, practices and case-studies, making it even more relevant and practical, especially for beginners. Its publication is indeed very timely, to support the “third mission” of universities and higher institutions of learning in engaging the community more meaningfully. Many who are keen to be involved but are inundated, given the limited experiences and capacities to deal with diversely different challenges at almost all levels – local, regional and global – can find solace in the book. What is more, with the widening disparities and divides that affect more communities like never before, given the phenomena of global warming and climate change, it becomes more challenging in seeking for lasting and sustainable solutions. It is exactly for such reasons that this book is welcome, as it provides a spectrum of creative solutions and worldviews based on the 22 chapters, contextualised by no less than 10 countries. Edited by the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility, co-chaired by Budd Hall of the University of Victoria, in Canada, and Rajesh Tandon of PRIA, in India, readers are privileged to have “a foundation of [their] thinking and practice over a period of 40 years” with respect to providing “an organisational framework for the theoretical and practical discourse” since the 1970s. More so, it is built largely in the context of community-based research and social responsibility in higher education in the global South, unlike most, which is to the exclusion of the North. This makes the volume rather unique!

Clearly, the motivation behind this book is to familiarise a new breed of young researchers and practitioners in acquiring better skills and training needs, as compared to their predecessors, in building capacity. It draws on very contemporary theories of knowledge democracy that emphasise the importance of what the authors refer to as the ‘co-construction of knowledge’. It should be read alongside other works that argue for the decolonisation of knowledge, the respect for the knowledge creating powers of local people and local organisations, and those arguing for transdisciplinarity and sustainability in higher education. The authors rightly highlight that knowledge creation has to be liberated from the monopoly of universities. Moving forward, it pushes the boundaries way beyond the oft-mentioned academic axiom of ‘publish-or-perish’. Herein emerges another idea of ‘do-or-die’, which is vital in building the capacity for the next generation of community-based researchers in realising The World We Want, and of late, the Futures of Education, as envisaged by UNESCO, under the leadership of its Director-General, Audrey Azoulay. Under the initiative of Futures of Education: Learning to Become, we are encouraged to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the futures of humanity in a context of increasing complexity, uncertainty and precarity. As we experience the rapidly changing contexts and multiple possible futures, aimed at contributing to the common good of humanity, this book can come at no better time in ushering the UNESCO initiative forward. In the words of the Director-General, when speaking on the leadership role in education, at the New York launch event in September, she rightly asserted that “our deeply humanist DNA cannot let us reduce education to a technical or technological issue, nor even to an economic one”. This, in a nutshell, is what community-based research and social responsibility in higher education is all about, as demonstrated by the work presented in this book. Collectively, the volume succinctly summarises the principles that can lend help beyond developing the skill sets of the researcher, but also promote the development of a true aptitude for research in a holistic manner, which, in many ways, set the pace for a paradigm shift “with new forms of knowledge or recovered indigenous forms of knowledge coming to the fore”. This, in turn, can lead to “much more relational (and less individualistic and scientific) modes of knowing, doing and being”. And deepening the “humanist DNA” in the process of Learning to Become.

What with the COVID-19 pandemic that is now engulfing the world, and literally threatening the whole-of-humanity, the UNESCO four pillars of learning to know, to do, to be and to live together in relation to learning to become provides open another window of opportunity in equalising the power imbalance, while building better relationships of mutual trust to address the coronavirus outbreak through a collaborative process between the various stakeholders. Indeed, the strategic moves in this regard are by and large community-based, as well as socially-oriented. Physical distancing, social bonding and solidarity, personal and societal hygiene, basic sanitation and effective communication are among the many ‘laudable’ habits that must now be co-created and co-organised as part of the multiple modes of enquiry involving multiple sources of knowledge generation and dissemination. It, in turn, complements the existing procedures and/or processes of community-based research training, in order to capture and incorporate the relevant knowledge. In short, this is an exciting time where higher education is pit against the search for the much-touted ‘new normal’. This includes new approaches to health and well-being, as well peace and harmonious living. It is my fervent hope that this amazingly timely book will point to a direction that paves the way to a new thinking in taking community-based research and social responsibility to new heights, in the post-pandemic era, based on knowledge democracy. After all, in the words of the authors, “knowledge democracy is understanding that knowledge is a powerful tool for taking action to deepen democracy and to struggle for a fairer and healthier world. Knowledge democracy is about intentionally linking values of democracy and action to the process of using knowledge”.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

Immediate Past President, International Association of Universities, Paris; Rector, International Islamic University, Malaysia

June 2020

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Socially Responsible Higher Education

International Perspectives on Knowledge Democracy


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