Over the past century the world has seen many social, economic and political transformations. It has transformed from a largely colonial era to a largely democratic one. Yet, while democratization of political culture guaranteed citizens’ rights and freedom, it did not result in democratization of learning and knowledge production. The change in education systems has been slow in the coming. Economic trends and civil society movements in the past decade have been facilitating changes in perceptions of what constitutes ‘knowledge’ and in redefining the mission and mandate of HEIs. With increasing demands on HEIs to scale up their teaching and research functions, HEIs are facing new challenges of contributing to human and social development. The meaning and agenda of human and social development has also changed over decades, and new civil society actors have been closely associated with this phenomenon.
This chapter looks at how the engagement of civil society organizations with the world of higher education has resulted in interesting trends in social policy formation and knowledge production. Illustrated through examples of effective engagement between higher education institutions and social and human development efforts of civil society – PRIA in Asia and The Afrikan Multiversity in Africa – the paper draws lessons from these interventions, highlighting future potentials for HEIs. Advocating the view that research and teaching functions of HEIs should serve the larger mission of human and social development, it looks at the gains to be obtained from such partnerships. Exploring alternative sources and modes of learning and knowledge production, the paper provides a vision of the possibilities that engagement with civil society can open up in terms of contribution of HEIs to social and human development in the coming decades.