On 26th July 2016 Conexx-Europe interviewed Opaline Meunier, President of the Union des Etudiants de la Communauté Française (UNECOF). This interview was conducted within the USR-NET: European Network of Socially Responsible Universities project framework. More precisely, the interviews are a tool to gather in depth information about university staff’s and stakeholders’ perception on USR and about accelerators and barriers to Social Responsibility (SR) implementation in universities.
After a brief introduction of the project’s objectives and strategies, Ms. Meunier provided an overview of the situation in Wallonia universities and vocational universities. According to her, although SR modules and sustainability studies are increasingly present in academic curricula, there are substantial differences between universities and among faculties. It is worth noting that often these topics are thought in voluntary modules, so potentially all students can attend them; however, the way these modules are structured makes them appealing to a limited number of students.
Further, Ms Meunier highlighted the case of the vocational universities, which usually offer full time courses and therefore it is less likely that the students can take extra modules and/or engage in extracurricular activities related to sustainability and social responsibility.
Regarding the inputs and exchanges between society and university, the interviewee noted that there is not a real interaction In fact, universities share their knowledge and expertise with society, but the opposite is not happening. This is, according to Ms. Meunier, partly due to a conception of the university as a ‘place for pure knowledge’ and it must be be preserved intact and protected from bad external influences.
Ms. Meunier also shared her thoughts about what factors can catalyse or hinder the inclusion of social responsibility as a transversal subject in universities. She stated that, although a bottom-up approach would be preferable because it shows a sincere attention to the issue by society, overarching governing bodies should discuss the issue in order to give it more visibility. One example is the which unites the Wallonia higher education institutions and brings together representatives of academic staff, students and trade unions.
From Ms. Meunier’s point of view, and taking into account of the relevance of the topic, compulsory attendance to social responsibility courses should be introduced.