Contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Higher Education"
An exchange on the essay A Higher Calling for Higher Education

Rajesh Tandon

Cristina Escrigas has done a great service to the cause of higher education by posing a challenging agenda. Congratulations!

Having started my career in academia, I shifted very early on to work directly with the marginalized communities. This shift was a catalyst to do my doctoral field work in rural India. For me, and perhaps many others, such opportunities for active field-based learning opportunities can be very crucial in shaping their perspectives. Therefore, can pedagogy of higher education really and fruitfully facilitate such field engagement?

My postsecondary education has been in electronics engineering and management. Therefore, I am somewhat disappointed to find that societal engagement in higher education is mostly limited to a few social science disciplines like social work. Meaningful improvements in learning, from the lenses of both teaching and research, can be applied in all disciplines in academia. In fact, transgressing disciplinary boundaries is most practical when engagement with society is encouraged, since people’s lives are not divided into disciplines.

I learnt in field engagements that academia has no monopoly over knowledge. Multiple sites, forms, modes, and cultures of knowledge need to be embraced if higher education is to be made more relevant to our contemporary challenges, as Escrigas points out. Community-based participatory research has provided an authentic methodology for us to engage with society. Learning to use such a methodology must be part of the transformative agenda of HEIs.

In her essay, Escrigas only tangentially answered the question of how to go about this renewal of higher education systems and institutions in various countries. Where is the lever for change? I find new generation of students, whose parents did not access higher education, impatient with old curriculum and pedagogy. I would like to find ways to support them to push for reforms in HEIs.

Rajesh Tandon
Rajesh Tandon is Founder-President of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), a global center for participatory research and training, and UNESCO Co-Chair on Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education.

Cite as Rajesh Tandon, contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Higher Education," Great Transition Initiative (June 2012),

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