More than 300 participants from 85 nations worldwide took part in the IAU 15th General Conference ‘Higher Education: a catalyst for innovative and sustainable societies’. The event was hosted in Bangkok on 13-16th November 2016 by a consortium of Thai universities.

The main topics of this year’s conference focused on sharing strategies and practices that demonstrate how education institutions can contribute to innovation and sustainability and find solutions to current global challenges and how universities can go a long way towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. IAU is known for actively promoting the important role and responsibility of universities as education providers to act as catalysts for innovation and a societal change towards sustainable development. All presentations and other conference materials are available on the conference website.

HEIRRI was present at the sessionResponsible Research and Innovation, pleonasm or indispensable prefix for sustainable education?”, co-organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi) and the International Association of Universities (IAU) in the framework of the H2020 project HEIRRI.

Josep M. Vilalta, Executive Secretary at ACUP and Executive Director at GUNi, Prof. Go Yoshizawa, Associate Professor at Osaka University, Hilligje van’t Land, Deputy Secretary General at the International Association of Universities (IAU) and Marta Cayetano, communication officer at ACUP and GUNi, shared with the attendees of the session reflections on RRI linked to education beyond the European perspective.

Prof. Go Yoshizawa reflected on RRI teaching in Asia and his current research linked to RRI at Osaka University: “responsible research and innovation is now a buzzword in European research policy arena, which seems to have been less focused than education for sustainable development (ESD) at the IAU General Conference. Where sustainable development goals (SDGs) for which ESD plays a critical role can largely share actions on thematic elements of RRI, the incompatibility sheds light on their different institutional, functional and academic origins – United Nations vs. European Union; education and community service vs. research and innovation; sustainable development studies vs. science and technology studies. My presentation and discussion might stand as a local challenge to overcome this dichotomy by bridging between university’s three missions and acting as liaison between university managers and researchers.”

Hilligje van’t Land, Deputy Secretary General at IAU, highlighted during her presentation that “RRI is a relatively new concept which has been adopted by the European Comission and triggers much interest in the higher education and research community in Europe. Many beautiful projects have been developed and are being developed under each call. Yet the concept itself appears to be unknown in some parts of Europe and certainly outside of Europe. Quite a few participants have come to this session in Bangkok to learn about RRI and how it is being translated into HEI settings. The relationship between concepts and international agendas would need to be clarified, since boundaries between RRI and Higher education and research for sustainable development (HESD) are sometimes blurry. IAU is convinced that Responsible Research and innovation is a focus that can reinforce action and policies developed in the context of HESD. Next steps in the HEIRRI project are to show how.»

The HEIRRI representatives from ACUP and GUNi, Josep M. Vilalta and Marta Cayetano, focused their presentations on the project and the importance of global university networks and partnerships to spread the initiative amongst Higher Education Institutions outside Europe; such as through the coming scholarships to pilot the training programmes developed by HEIRRI, raising awareness on socially responsible universities through the Higher Education in the World Report, where HEIRRI will be present as well, or the coming HEIRRI document of engagement.

HEIRRI at the IAU 15th General Conference ‘Higher Education: a catalyst for innovative and sustainable societies’