Universities with a Social Purpose: Intentions, Achievements and Challenges


Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Time: 2:30-4pm
Location: PCN 2012
Visiting Speaker: Dr. V. Santhakumar

The Book

Kerry Shephard and Santhakumar V (2023) `Universities with a Social Purpose: Intentions, Achievements and Challenges’, Springer, Singapore



Of course, everything that a university does is, in one way or another, in support of the society that sponsors it and of the progress of humanity. However, despite our appreciation for all the good that our universities do, we live in a world that needs its universities, and fulfilment of their social purposes, desperately. The social, economic and environmental circumstances of many of our nations are far from satisfactory by any measure, and these reflect in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Universities around the world are not necessarily stepping up to accept their responsibility to educate individuals about or for the SDGs. What, precisely, might our universities be able to do about these things, and what are they doing already that might be contributing to them? This book responds to this questions not only for conventional universities, but also for universities with specific social purposes and for those people who plan to start such universities. 

Ours is an academic analysis of a complex situation, based on insights from the published literature on higher education and the personal experiences of two professors in two different contexts. The social purposes of universities are particularly poorly defined, addressed by multiple disciplines, and enacted by players and stakeholders with diverse and conflicting stakes. Books on the issues are highly polarised and often mission oriented. Ours attempts to be analytical not only about the details of universities’ social purposes, but also about the political and philosophical complexity inherent to any analysis of such a contested and complex topic.  Ours celebrates the personal experiences of its authors, and uses these as literary devices through which formal academic analysis can operate.

Given that the social purposes of universities are so contested, and that those who write about such things are so passionate about them, we hope that our conversation provides a novel, interesting and stimulating read. Our book is punctuated by experience-based narratives, particularly those from India, where achieving social purposes inherent to the SDGs appears to be even more challenging than in smaller, more developed, nations.


A Bionote

Santhakumar V is a professor at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India. He was part of the faculty of the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum (affiliated to the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) before shifting to Azim Premji University. The latter was founded by the biggest philanthropic foundation in India and was conceived as a university with a specific social purpose (of creating reflective practitioners in the domain of education and development). Hence Santhakumar’s academic interest after joining the university changed to the inter-linkages between development and education, and the ways of shortening the ​‘distance’ between population groups so as to mitigate the ​‘development differences’ between them. He has carried out a number of experiments that connect teaching and research in university to the practice in the domains of development and education. He is anchoring an online platform that connects the university with practice (https://practiceconnect.azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/). His recent publications in the domain of education include

  • Shephard, K., & Santhakumar, V. (2023). Universities with aSocial Purpose: Intentions, Achievements and Challenges. https:// link .springer .com/ b o o k / 1 0 . 1 0 0 7/978 – 981-99 – 8960‑7
  • Santhakumar, V., Gupta, N., & Sripada, R. (2016). Schooling for All in India: Can We Neglect the Demand?Oxford University
  • Santhakumar, V., Dietz, G., Castillo Guzmán, E., & Shephard, K. (2022). ¿Indigeneizar la educación superior?Perfiles Educativos44(176), 186 –  https:// doi .org/ 1 0 . 2 2 2 0 1 / i i s u e . 2 4 4 8 6 1 6 7 e . 2 0 2 2 . 1 7 6 . 60908
  • Shephard, K., Kalsoom, Q., Gupta, R., Probst, L., Gannon, P., Santhakumar, V., Ndukwe, I.G.,& Jowett, T. (2021). Exploring the relationship between dispositions to think critically and sustainability concern in  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 22(5),1166 – 1185. https:// doi .org/ 1 0 . 1 1 0 8 / I J S HE-07 – 2020-0251
  • Santhakumar, V. (2022). Education in South Asia. In C.C. and A.W. Wiseman (Eds.),World Education Patterns in the Global South: The Ebb of Global Forces and the Flow of Contextual Imperatives (pp. 59 – 78). Emerald Publishing Limited. https:// doi .org/ 1 0 . 1 1 0 8 / S 1 4 7 9 – 3 6 7 9 2 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 4 3B004
  • Santhakumar, V. (2020). Education in India. In R. Yule, N. McKay, J. Seroto, M.N. Davids, C.C. Wolhuter (Eds.),Decolonising Education in the Global South: Historical and Comparative International Perspectives. 
  • Santhakumar, V. & Wolhuter, C.C.. (2020). Language of learning and teaching in South Africa and India: Acomparative study. In C.C. Wolhuter (Ed.), Critical Issues in South African Education: Illumination from International Comparative Perspectives from the BRICS Countrie AOSIS Publishing.

There are a number of other books and journal articles in the domain of economic development written by him and these can be seen in https://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/people/santhakumar-v

He is also a regular commentator on contemporary issues, and writes a weekly blog (https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/)

He has analysed a set of experiments of intercultural education in Latin America (Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia) and his new book `Intercultural Education: A View from Asia’ is under review for publication by Springer.




Universities with a Social Purpose: Intentions, Achievements and Challenges

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