Bringing Science and Academia to the Population: Activities to Raise Questions and Make People Think in Vulnerable Urban Contexts

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 44
Oral Presentation
Hugo HORTA , Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal
The university role in society has been increasingly framed by models aligned with academic capitalism, institutional competition and the quantification of activities/results. These, associated to decreasing resources and public funding, are placing the integrity of the university as a social institution at risk. The roles in society that universities are expected to pursue have also multiplied and substantially increased the burden placed on these institutions. One of the new dimensions of intervention of universities in society is through the service mission of the university – also dubbed as the 3rd mission. This has been gaining increasing relevance in more recent years as a form to open the university to society. Yet, in most countries, this latter mission of the university is somewhat understood as a fuzzy concept, and there is a tendency to associate it with knowledge transfer activities associated with commercialization of science. In this article, we argue that this may be a simplistic view of the service mission, and that this mission in fact can encompass a range of activities that can not only benefit the university – orienting it to fulfill its social mandate and consolidate its legitimacy - but also contribute directly to the benefit of populations in vulnerable urban areas. Through the use of two cases studies focused on activities voluntary developed by academics of a school of engineering in Lisbon, Portugal, we analyze two strategic activities that aimed at bringing the university to vulnerable populations and if not solve, at least raise awareness about risky phenomena and vulnerable situations. These cases represent an overhaul of the more narrow thinking on the service mission of the university, as they combine activities that interact public understanding of science purposes, with hands-on teaching that applies engineering theoretical principles to real life cases, while fostering interdisciplinary research.