There is a perception that everyone is aware of what University Social Responsibility (USR) means. In reality, the understanding of this concept differs in focus, extent and action across many countries. To consolidate an overview of USR best practices in ASEM countries, the 2nd Asia-Europe Education Workshop "Knowledge Societies: Universities and their Social Responsibilities" was organised jointly by ASEF and the University of Innsbruck in Austria (6-7 June 2011).

There were 26 participants from ASEM countries in this workshop. They discussed the diversity of terms used – community service/community engagement, industry and community engagement, community consciousness circles, and knowledge valorisation. There was a clear consensus that the ‘social dimension’ of higher education should be at the forefront of discussions. It should be integrated both in policy and practice.

Dr Nantana Gajaseni of the ASEAN University Network recommended that universities ensure effective information exchange among all stakeholders (universities with community, industry and the governments). There is not a “one-size fits all” model for USR. Diversity of models must be therefore explored to meet national needs. Such exploration and discussions should not be limited to the national agenda of countries but extended to include other countries and regions.

Referring to the role of Universities today, Prof Teay Shawyun of the Southeast Asian Association for Institutional Research (SEAAIR) proposed the concept of the 7 Cs: Context, Content, Capabilities and Capacities, Communities, Change and Culture. Capacity building for self-transformation and societal transformation was underlined. All participants agreed that today’s knowledge and skills do not exactly correspond to tomorrow’s need. Thus lifelong learning is very important.

Prof Lynne Chisholm from the University of Innsbruck commented on higher education stakeholders in Asia who today can seize the opportunity to innovate by reflecting on new models of universities. They do not have the restrictions posed by previous education paradigms and traditions.

Workshop discussions revolved around the “coming together of hearts, minds and hands” as a guiding principle for learning. Mr Pim Van Loon of the Dutch Ministry for Interior and Kingdom Relations advocated networking, accountability and ethics as guiding principles for the role of universities in the society.

A compendium of highlights and final recommendations from the Workshop will be published later this year. This compendium will include selected case studies, which will be presented in 2012 at the 3rd ASEM Rectors’ Conference. The recommendations will be put forward to the 4th Asia-Europe Meeting for Ministers of Education (ASEMME) in Malaysia in 2013.

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