Universities commit to social engagement

By Helene Perold

The drive for universities to become more engaged with communities, social transformation and development took a leap forward in a small village in the French Alps when 28 university leaders from 22 countries adopted The Talloires Declaration on the Civic Roles and Social Responsibilities of Higher Education on 18 September 2005.

The Talloires Declaration states that 'universities have the responsibility to foster in faculty, staff and students a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to the social good, which, we believe, is central to the success of a democratic and just society'.

Noting that some universities are 'older than the societies in which they are located' while others are just emerging, the signatories to the Declaration affirm their belief that all higher education institutions nevertheless 'bear a special obligation to contribute to the public good, through educating students, expanding access to education, and the creation and timely application of new knowledge'.

'Our institutions recognise that we do not exist in isolation from society, nor from the communities in which we are located,' it continues. 'Instead, we carry a unique obligation to listen, understand and contribute to social transformation and development. Higher education must extend itself for the good of society to embrace communities near and far. In doing so, we will promote our core missions of teaching, research and service.'

University leaders from 22 countries attended a conference in September on the civic engagement roles and responsibilities of higher education institutions.


The Talloires Declaration is the product of deliberations held at a two-day conference organised by Tufts University (Boston, USA) at its European Center in the French village of Talloires in September. The conference on the civic engagement roles and responsibilities of higher education was attended by 28 presidents, rectors and vice-chancellors heading universities in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Serbia and Montenegro, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela and Vietnam.

This Declaration is the fourth in a series of such statements issued from the Tufts European Center in Talloires over the past 24 years. The others are entitled: University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (1990); The Responsibility of Universities in the Nuclear Age (1988); and A Constructive Approach to a Global Information Order (1981).

Signatories to the 2005 Talloires Declaration agree to a range of actions, including:

  • expanding civic engagement and social responsibility programmes through teaching, research and public service;
  • rewarding and recognising good practice in social service by students, faculty, staff and their community partners;
  • raising awareness within government, business, media, charitable, not-for-profit and international organisations about the contributions of higher education to social advancement and wellbeing;
  • establishing partnerships with primary and secondary schools, and other institutions of further and higher education, to ensure that education for active citizenship becomes an integral part of learning at all levels of society and stages of life;
  • using international, regional and national academic associations to strengthen civic engagement in higher education; and
  • speaking out on issues of civic importance in their communities.

The conference was organised by Tufts University’s University College of Citizenship and Public Service. It was supported by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Ford Foundation and the Omidyar Network, and co-sponsored by the Association of Commonwealth Universities in the UK, the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education in Canada, and Campus Compact in the USA.

University presidents, rectors and vice-chancellors from universities around the world are encouraged to join and endorse this statement. Details on access to the Talloires Network are available at www.president.tufts.edu/conference.