Written by Marian Royston, AU CCE Alumnus.
The Higher Education for Democratic Innovation Global Forum 2014 (HEDI 2014) was held at Queen’s University Belfast from June 25-27. The forum was an international conference organized by a host of organizations, including the Council of Europe and the U.S. Steering Committee for International Consortium for Higher Education. As a current student at Queen’s and a strong proponent of all things related to civic engagement and democracy, I eagerly registered for the event.
HEDI 2014 brought together a host of different actors in the field of higher education and democracy from around the world. There were university presidents, student affairs professionals, faculty members and a few students in attendance. This mix of individuals created a unique environment with many different perspectives represented. As one of the few students (and possibly the only American student), I believe that the student point of view could have been better represented, but I understand that students are under stronger budgetary constraints than the other delegates. Nevertheless, I believe that the conference was very timely and important considering the current challenges that we as a global society are facing in regards to democracy.
The topics of the plenary sessions ranged from discussions about social inclusion, university engagement with communities and the role of technology to name a few. Every topic, however, fit into a larger conversation about the need for democratic innovation. Democratic innovation refers to the need to adapt democracy to meet the needs and challenges of a rapidly changing world. As one speaker pointed out, we are, for the most part, using 19th Century Institutions to address 21st Century problems. If we truly believe in democracy and want it to have a place in the world, then democratic innovation is very necessary. After establishing the need for democratic innovation, the real question remained—what role should higher education play in such innovation?
The question of higher education’s place in society is one of the great debates of the modern era. But, for the delegates of HEDI 2014, the answer is clear. Democracy needs education in order to thrive. Therefore, institutions of education—from primary to post-secondary—are “citizen factories.” So, institutions of higher education should be highly obligated to ensure that students receive an education that prepares them to be citizens of the globalized society in which we live.
When chewing on that food for thought, I find myself overflowing with pride as and Auburn Community and Civic Engagement graduate. Surely programs like Living Democracy are a shining example of what universities can do to innovatively prepare the next generation of global citizens.