Universities play a key role in producing and disseminating knowledge through their research and teaching. Their civic role is equally important, and many universities have been very active in this area. Has COVID-19 put the brakes on their civic engagement?
The outbreak has constituted a critical moment for higher education. In the most affected countries, universities’ first priorities were to transfer teaching to online platforms and close most laboratories, except those that refocused their activities on COVID-19 research. Then they focused on how to maintain their civic engagement.
Typically, civic engagement is local. It usually includes community-based participatory research, volunteer projects, initiatives aimed at economic and social development and community access to cultural events and sports facilities. These activities are difficult to pursue when students are gone from their campuses and local communities are in lockdown.
Students are shopping for or reaching out to the elderly, for example, or serving as tutors to disadvantaged school children. Armies of students in health-related fields are volunteering in hospitals and other public places as needed. Engineering students are creating face shields for first responders and health workers. Chemistry students are producing sanitisers and the chemical agents that hospitals need.
Academic staff have also sprung into action. University labs are producing coronavirus test kits. Medical faculties are donating their ventilators, facemasks and other personal safety equipment. Scientists are writing articles and are ever present in the media to explain in accessible terms what this crisis is about, how the public should respond and what to expect in the future.
What better way than civic engagement, folded into research and teaching activities, to ensure that students develop into good citizens and for universities and their staff to exercise their social responsibility.
To read more about high education taking action with civic engagement in this time, follow the link below: