Institutions of education, and the system of which they are a part, face a host of unprecedented challenges from forces in society that affect and are influenced by these very institutions and their communities of learners and educators. Among these forces are sweeping demographic changes, shrinking provincial budgets, revolutionary advances in information and telecommunication technologies, globalization, competition from new educational providers, market pressures to shape educational and scholarly practices toward profit-driven ends, and increasing demands and pressures for fundamental changes in public policy and public accountability relative to the role of higher education in addressing pressing issues of communities and the society at large.
Any one of these challenges would be significant on its own. Still, collectively they increase the complexity and difficulty for education to sustain or advance the fundamental work of serving the public good. Through an education forum, we can agree that strengthening the relationship between higher education and society will require a broad-based effort that encompasses all education, not just individual institutions, departments, and associations. Piecemeal solutions can only go so far; strategies for change must be informed by a shared vision and a set of common objectives. A “movement” approach for change holds greater promise for transforming academic culture than the prevailing “organizational” approach.
Mobilizing change will require strategic alliances, networks, and partnerships with a broad range of stakeholders within and beyond education. The Common Agenda is specifically designed to support a “movement” approach to change by encouraging the emergence of strategic alliances among individuals and organizations who care about the role of higher education in advancing the ideals of a diverse democratic system through education practices, relationships, and service to society.
A Common Agenda
The Common Agenda is intended to be a “living” document and an open process that guides collective action and learning among committed partners within and outside of higher education. As a living document, the Common Agenda is a collection of focused activities to advance civic, social, and cultural roles in society. This collaboratively created, implemented and focused Common Agenda respects the diversity of activity and programmatic foci of individuals, institutions, and networks and recognizes the whole’s common interests. As an open process, the Common Agenda connects work and relationships around common interests, focusing on the academic role in serving society. Various modes of aliening and amplifying the common work within and beyond education will be provided within the Common Agenda process.
This approach is understandably ambitious and unique in its purpose and application. Ultimately, the Common Agenda challenges the higher education system and those who view education as vital to addressing society’s pressing issues to act deliberately, collectively, and clearly on an evolving and significant set of commitments to society. Currently, four broad issue areas are shaping the focus of the Common Agenda: 1) Building public understanding and support for our civic mission and actions; 2) Cultivating networks and partnerships; 3) Infusing and reinforcing the value of civic responsibility into the culture of higher education institutions, and 4) Embedding civic engagement and social responsibility in the structure of the education system.
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VISION We have a vision of higher education that nurtures individual prosperity, institutional responsiveness and inclusivity, and societal health by promoting and practicing learning, scholarship, and engagement that respects public needs. Our universities are proactive and responsive to pressing social, ethical, and economic problems facing our communities and society. Our students are people of integrity who embrace diversity and are socially responsible and civilly engaged throughout their lives.