This paper explores ways in which aspirations for development (“good change”) are battered currently by forces and challenges that appear to be diminishing opportunities for social justice, equity and harmony. There are many examples of good change, some of which are associated with participatory development approaches and processes, and in which universities, as engaged social actors, often play a key role. The paper draws on two examples of dialogue which aim to support a reimagination of the role and function of universities: “Learning and teaching for transformation” which explores meanings and practices of education, participation and social change; and an emerging “cooperative inquiry” grounded in shared values and principles, through a programme of action research on Higher Education and Participatory Development.
The dialogue and initiatives described in this paper are revealing that there are many within higher education institutions who see their role clearly as natural defenders of diversity and challengers of power asymmetries, as well as strong opponents of bland cultural uniformity. In many social and organisational contexts, taking on such a transformative role will be challenging, however. There is need for a more clear understanding of the extent to which universities provide and receive opportunities for dialogue on how to counteract the increasing negative power of globalisation over education. Still, one of the greatest challenges will be to promote the idea of universities as transformative spaces where critical analysis of social issues is fostered, and to help them achieve and promote inclusion of the voices of all community members in democratic and equitable policy processes – for the good of all.