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University social responsibility as a driving force of change: students’ perceptions beyond the ivory tower

Marcia Coelho (Centre for Research and Intervention in Education (CIIE), Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal)
Isabel Menezes (Centre for Research and Intervention in Education (CIIE), Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 2 June 2020

Issue publication date: 16 June 2020

437

Abstract

Purpose

In the context of increasingly diverse issues that affect global society, the social responsibility dimension in higher education institutions is being called to the forefront of change, both in the sense of rethinking their internal practices (e.g. promoting the access and progression of students from different cultural backgrounds) and in their interaction with the surrounding community (e.g. through the establishment of stronger partnerships). The USR activities and projects are considered driving forces of change for universities, but the potential that the involvement of students in this area can have, in their academic and professional capacities, is not yet sufficiently studied.

Design/methodology/approach

This study examines how students from three European universities (Edinburgh, Porto and Kaunas) perceive the impact of their own involvement in the Erasmus + project ESSA – an experiential training in university social responsibility audit – through focus-group discussions.

Findings

This analysis pointed towards the role of USR projects as an opportunity for students to improve transversal competencies aligned with articulation between the three cornerstones of the university: teaching, research and third mission.

Research limitations/implications

The study rests on students' perceptions of personal change.

Practical implications

This research can help higher education institutions understand the potential of involving students in existing USR projects as a tool to promote their personal, academic and civic development.

Social implications

USR is a core mission of higher education institutions that is beneficial not only internally but also in what concerns interactions with the community and the potential for developing “public-minded alumni”.

Originality/value

This paper provides an insight into how students perceive the impact of their involvement in USR projects as unique learning spaces.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and by the European Social Fund – Human Capital Operational Programme (POCH) from Portugal 2020 Programme [PhD fellowship grant no. SFRH/BD/133889/2017 and by the Portuguese Government, through the FCT, under the strategic funding awarded to CIIE – Centre for Research and Intervention in Education [grant no. UID/CED/00167/2019; UIDB/00167/2020].

Citation

Coelho, M. and Menezes, I. (2020), "University social responsibility as a driving force of change: students’ perceptions beyond the ivory tower", On the Horizon, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 93-100. https://doi.org/10.1108/OTH-02-2020-0005

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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