University vinculación: A two-way strategy for sustainable development and academic relevance
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The public university of the twenty-first century is faced with numerous pressing issues, but none greater than the need to promote social transformation through sustainable development. The authors of this article understand sustainable development as that which brings us closer to a comprehensive social order in which humanity has the challenge of viewing reality in all its complexity, but acting simply in order to solve the socio-environmental problems we suffer. In this article, we ask the following questions: What is the university’s role within complex social structures? How can it produce a vinculación, or two-way interaction, between university and the wider environment that contributes towards sustainable development? Put most simply, where does the university fit in? This article discusses the project of the Universidad Veracruzana: that is, the establishment of a university-wide vinculación or strategic process for attending to society’s needs and problems, via the deliberate inclusion of formal processes into the university’s substantive functions of teaching, research, outreach and cultural diffusion. Furthermore, these processes include feedback mechanisms that impact on the university’s work.
Over many years of engagement, the Universidad Veracruzana has built a very particular vision of the way in which a process can be organized in order to respond to the challenge of social transformation. The subsequent systematization of this experience has led to the development of the University Social Action Model, which is a strategy to clarify the social commitment of the university based on four levels of support: altruism, assistance, advice, and the promotion of self-management for social transformation. This article provides detail on how the model works in practice, as evidenced by the award-winning work of the University Brigades and Casas UV. The ultimate goal of this model is to help shift the role of the university from that of an autocratic leader to a companion for the creation of possibilities for social development. In the end, that is the answer to the question: where does the university fit in?
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