On 19th September 2016 Conexx-Europe interviewed Valérie Swaen, Professor of Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility at Louvain School of Management (Université catholique de Louvain) and the head of the Louvain CSR Network.
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 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, Ms Swaen said that the right approach to “teaching” social responsibility contents should be finding an equilibrium between theory and practice. “It’s not enough to discuss these issues in a theoretical way; this should be done through practice, motivating students to contribute directly to society in some way”.
Further, Ms Swaen suggested that a first step would be to integrate in all curricula an introduction course about social responsibility to make student think about what is the impact of their actions on society at large.
Ms Swaen also suggested that many professors are concerned about the lack of time to discuss all the interesting topics that they consider important and that should be included in curricula. Adding social responsibility contents means teaching more subjects in the same hours. This happens to be difficult because module programmes are already stretched to the maximum. Therefore, in order to add new subjects, others have to be deleted; this will surely encounter the opposition of many professors.
According to Ms. Swaen, “The Dean and a considerable part of the University governing bodies should be convinced and active supporters of USR”, if anything is to be achieved. As long as USR lacks the support of the governing bodies, it is unlikely that any substantial and practical change will occur.
Nonetheless, Ms Swaen also claimed that students have a role to play; they are represented at every level of the decision making process and their opinions and priorities have high impact. Therefore, it is important to trigger their interest for the subject.
When it comes to external relations with stakeholders outside the university, the main barrier is a lack of knowledge about how to make it really happen. Indeed, everybody has its own agenda, different kinds of vocabulary and it is difficult to identify the right interlocutor within the organisations. In addition, the University bureaucracy slows down and complicates these processes
To sum up, Ms. Swaen highlighted the importance of university governing bodies’ support to advance in the implementation of University Social Responsibility. In fact, substantial change in teaching and social participation can only happen if the governing bodies approve specific policies.