Creating New Spaces for Community Learning and Development through Universities

What are the purposes of Universities? Are they in existence to merely impart knowledge through certain courses and then merely produce graduates and post-graduates in millions? Should they not serve communities and the wider society? This article seeks very broad answers to this vital question.


this situation. There is a Deemed University near a very small town. In the twenty-odd villages that are near the University, are two thousand families. Most of these families have small farm holdings of up to three acres. They cultivate vegetables and then get to sell them in the nearest towns, earning up to five hundred rupees per day. While the men do the rounds, the womenfolk take care of all domestic chores. A chance visit of the Vice-Chancellor of the University to around ten villages helps him understand realities. The housewives do have spare time to engage in some activity or the other.

The learned man puts on his thinking cap. He gets the Top Management of the University involved. Eager to get involved in community development, the deemed University ties up with ten NGOs and institutes certificate courses in Basketweaving, jewellery design, specialized tailoring and so on. The focus is on complete training. For those who have passed the plus two examinations, but lack the means to study further, the University forges a tie-up with a leading IT organization, convincing them to start a rural BPO organization where the students will be employed after acquiring a Diploma in BPO organization. All the courses are taught through the Tamil medium. The faculty members for the BPO course are drawn from the same BPO and after the six months course, the students are made to compulsorily undergo an internship for forty -five days before they are offered jobs in the same BPO organization. Through efforts of the BPO Management, the students also get jobs in other similar BPOs in the State, where Tamil is the local language and there is no need for any knowledge of English. However, the deemed University also offers free-spoken and written English coaching through language experts through both classroom training and online methods to increase the employability of all the local BPO employees. Within eighteen months, given the additional skill-sets acquired, at least fifteen of the BPO employees get jobs in better BPO organizations where the knowledge of English is compulsory. The certificate courses dramatically changed the lives of the housewives. They now understand their own potential and since they are now gainfully employed, the local branch of the State Co-operative Bank enables the starting of some forty self-help groups, thereby promoting entrepreneurship.

Well, the aforesaid story is not real. Yes. There are several self-help groups in various rural areas of Tamil Nadu and they have their own rules. They have a good deal of participative management and have now started selling their products even in other districts. Yes. There are various Deemed Universities and a good number of them are not based in urban areas. The entire plan of action suggested above should be put into real action and the agencies such as the University Grants Commission(UGC) should also get involved to formulate Vision and Mission Statements and plan of action for each University.

While the New Education policy is yet to be implemented, the New Spaces For Community Learning and Development through Universities, should be achieved through and by a) Different Strokes for different folks b) Breaking all class and language barriers c) Utilizing natural local resources d) Involving all stake-holders and e) Ensuring minimum Government intervention.

Different strokes for different folks

The sum and substance of this is this: every village or a cluster of villages in the local area of every State in India has different social dynamics. For example, the free flow of NRI remittances from the Gulf has already changed the colours of rural Kerala. The literacy rate is very high. There is scope for community development, but the focus can be on exports of goods made to the same NRI Malayali population not only in the Gulf, but elsewhere in the world as well. The flow of NRI remittances is not much in Tamil Nadu. However, there is already some economic activity and it is not uncommon to find small training centres in basic IT skills in the slightly bigger villages. What is most important is to map the exact needs and initiate action. When the action starts rolling in, the spin-off in terms of more accurate and reliable mapping can be done, to reflect changed situations. The local University should be empowered to immediately start the certificate courses and then obtain UGC approval as well as State Government approval. After all, the interests of several communities are involved and hence the action should be centred around faster decision-making, to realize the effects of any action.

Breaking all class and language barriers

What happens when villagers see well-dressed men? At least in Tamil Nadu, they are given a good deal of respect and referred to as "sami". However, it does take quite a while for the villagers to accept them. One needs to dress very simply. One needs to engage them only in their own language. Hindi words in the Hindi belt. It may not work elsewhere. The local language of the State is the ideal vehicle of communication to get across to people in all areas. The University and college teachers and students need to build a rapport with them and this can take months. Any developmental initiate will be welcome only if the villagers are convinced that they can be part of the developmental process and it could make a meaningful contribution to their incomes and standard of living.

Utilizing local natural resources

There is a big movement towards the use of totally organic fertilizers. It is also learned that there is a good deal of research into how such fertilizers can be made better. It is here that the native intelligence of the farmers can be very useful in this regard. Similarly, the exact requirements in terms of the villagers in terms of how they can pool their own resources will and can come only from the local people concerned. The judicious use of water resources, planting of a maximum number of trees, can be done with the local manpower. The scope for research is very wide and action-research is all that is needed.

Involving all stake-holders

Let us go back to the previous example of the Deemed University mentioned in the introduction. The parents of the students, teachers, non-teaching staff, the various service providers to the University and the local panchayat concerned are all stake-holders and each of them needs to be totally involved in terms of making things happen. Any action initiated cannot proceed with a big bang approach. There are several opinions and viewpoints and suggestions of all stakeholders who can be approached for help in any specific project. For example, if the services of thirty Post-graduate students who had studied through the English medium were to be utilized to conduct the spoken English classes for the BPO employees at minim cost or for free, imagine the spin-off in terms of the very good name that the Deemed University will have in the process of solid community development.

Ensuring minimum Government intervention

It is commonly observed that the projects that have Government intervention are utterly useless or grossly inadequate as decision making takes too much time. Furthermore, the politicians enter the scene and spoil every bit of the action. The pulls and pressures do not ensure any concrete action. Hence there should be nil Government intervention of any kind.

It is hoped that the New Education policy will facilitate the introduction of several novel courses and will also make learning a process of deep inquiry, even when ensuring that there are fun and enjoyment on learning. The same yardstick and the basic philosophy concerning such a new line of action should also be evident and part and parcel of the community development work and learning through Universities. Implicit in the line of actions suggested above is a realization that the entire onus of execution of any project will solely rest on the community involved; the concerned University merely acts as a facilitator and nodal agency for awarding the certificates. In the process of community learning, it is but important that the development also takes place in the community, for changing the lives of thousands of people involved. Private initiatives are the best way forward.


Universities need to become engines of social change and not merely bodies for awarding degrees. Community learning and development needs to proceed seamlessly; the more of community involvement and learning, the more solid development will be. This should be ensured at all times. The time has already come for debating the need of Universities in the community learning and development processes. Some ideas have been discussed above, as possibilities. The scope for innovation is very high and this will emerge in the real world when the initiatives are implemented at various levels and places.


Author: Neeru Bhatt16 Nov 2020 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

The role of universities and other educational institutions in community development and association of its students in social development along with creating business opportunities seems to be a very nice concept and if implemented through the national policies can make the dream come true also. So far schools and colleges are thought to be the knowledge agencies for the academic development of the students and their role in community development is minimal. Though there are some schemes like NSS in the schools how far are they active in this direction is to be seen by the experts in this field. I do not know whether the new education policy has something there to help in this matter or not but the involvement of more institutions and keeping the NGOs as the vehicles between the two can definitely be achieved in this matter for community development. We have a huge student power and their energies can be channelized with due diligence and guidance to achieve this proposed goal. At the same time, we have to take care that many times we think of doing splendid things or projects for the welfare of society in many ways but when it comes to implementation we miserably fail not as individuals but also as a nation. So the premises mentioned in this article are well appreciated but how to convert them into the realities of this world would be a thing to ponder deeply.

Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao24 Nov 2020 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

A nice thought. The universities should try to create awareness among the village people regarding the importance of skill development. If they can design courses useful to the people in getting a job and try to encourage young entrepreneurs to start their small startups in these villages and the skills obtained will be useful for these startups. A BPO in a small town or a village is a good concept. We will get qualified people for lesser salaries in these areas and the whole expenses will be less for the promoters and they can compete successfully with other BPO.
The ex-Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu did experimentation by encouraging Dwkra groups. If the universities can think of providing skills to these Dwakra groups, they become good entrepreneurs. If the top bosses of these universities and the education ministers of all the states and central government can think about this make a committee to formulate a system. They should give targets to each university. This will change the atmosphere in many villages.

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