Higher Education and Society


Institutions of education and the system they are a part of face unprecedented challenges from societal forces that affect and are influenced by these 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 academic 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 real work of serving the public good.

Higher Education and Society 1

Through an education forum, we can agree that strengthening the relationship between higher education and society will require a broad effort encompassing all education, not just individual institutions, departments, and associations.

Piecemeal solutions can only go so far; a shared vision and common objectives must inform strategies for change. A “movement” approach to change holds more incredible promise for transforming academic culture than the prevailing “organizational” approach.

Mobilizing change will require strategic alliances, networks, and partnerships with various 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 guiding collective action and learning among committed partners within and outside 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 shared interests. As an open process, the Common Agenda connects work and relationships around shared interests, focusing on the academic role in serving society. The Common Agenda process will provide various modes of aligning and amplifying the joint work within and beyond education.

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 the community. 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.

VISION We have an idea 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, are socially responsible, and are civilly engaged throughout their lives.

MISSION The purpose of the Common Agenda is to provide a framework for organizing, guiding, and communicating the values and practices of education relative to its civic, social, and economic commitments to a diverse democratic system.


I believe social justice, ethics, educational equity, and societal change for positive effects are fundamental to the work of higher education. We consider the relationship between communities and education institutions to be based on equality, respect, and reciprocity, and the work in education to be interdependent with the other institutions and individuals.

We will seek and rely on extensive partnerships with all types of institutions and devoted individuals inside and outside higher education.

We realize the interconnection of politics, power, and privilege. The Common Agenda is not for higher education to self-serve but to “walk the talk” relative to espoused public goals. We understand the Common Agenda as a dynamic living document and expect its activities to change over time.

THE COMMON AGENDA FRAMEWORK The general framework for the common agenda is represented in the following diagram. It is clear that while goals and action items are organized and aligned within specific issue areas, there is considerable overlap and complementarity among the issues, goals, and action items. Also, following each action item are names of individuals who committed to serve as “point persons” for that particular item. A list of “point persons” with their organizational affiliation(s) is included with the standard plan.