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The Need for Fostering Social Responsibility in Higher Education Institutions

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This paper explores the concept of social responsibility in Indian higher education institutions, examining the policy and institutional interventions introduced by the government since the country's independence. It discusses the historical importance of universities and advocates for their active engagement in contemporary society, linking knowledge with citizenship and addressing social and cultural aspects. The study focuses on various policy-level interventions, such as recommendations from education commissions and committees, the National Service Scheme (NSS), the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA), and the National Education Policy 2020. Additionally, it examines the reasons behind fostering social responsibility in universities and the challenges associated with its implementation.


The Government's All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2020-2021 shows that the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions climbed to 4.14 crore for the academic year 2020– 21, breaking the 4-crore barrier for the first time. It showed a rise of 7.5% from 2019–2020 and 21% from 2014–2015. Higher education institutions play a vital role in society, not only as centers of knowledge but also as entities with social and public responsibilities. In the present era, the connection between universities and their societal role is crucial, as they contribute to the social and cultural aspects of the knowledge society, going beyond subject knowledge by promoting critical thinking, community engagement, and creativity.

The concept of university social responsibility in India traces back to its history of social and cultural involvement by educational institutions. While ancient centers of learning like Nalanda and Takshashila actively contributed to society's well-being through research and knowledge dissemination, the focus on social responsibility during the colonial era was marginalized, primarily serving the interests of the British administration. Post-independence, although initial efforts were made to prioritize social responsibility in higher education, the emphasis remained largely on teaching and research. However, UNESCO and the 2020 report on the Future of Education emphasized the importance of higher education addressing diverse socio-economic, environmental, and political issues.

2.Policy Interventions for Fostering Social Responsibility

Efforts to foster social responsibility in Indian higher education began with the University Education Commission of 1948-1949, chaired by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. The commission recommended the introduction of a voluntary national service in academic institutions, which materialized as the National Service Scheme (NSS) in 1969. The Kothari Commission in 1964 further emphasized the trinity of core functions of universities: teaching, research, and extension services, underscoring the need for voluntary social service schemes.

The Subcommittee on Strengthening Community Engagement in Higher Education in India (2011) recognized the intrinsic value of community engagement for quality education and social transformation. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 places a strong focus on community participation as a higher education institution's social obligation. It recommends integrating credit-based courses and projects related to community engagement and service, environmental education, and value-based education into flexible and innovative curricula.

3.Pan-India Programmes for Embedding Social Responsibility

Two major programmes promoting social engagement in Indian youth are the National Service Scheme (NSS) and the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan (UBA). NSS is a voluntary organization aimed at connecting campuses with communities to foster student individuality through community service. NSS was launched in 1969 in 37 Universities involving about 40,000 volunteers which has now spread over 657 Universities and 51 +2 Councils/Directorates, covering 20,669 Colleges/ Technical Institutions and 11,988 Senior Secondary School. Since inception, over 7.4 crore students have benefitted from NSS.

UBA provides rural and local governments with specialized resources for science, engineering, technology, and management, aiming to transform rural development processes and create an inclusive India. Under the UBA 2.0, 688 institutions were selected on a Challenge Mode, out of which 426 were technical, and 262 were non-technical reputed Higher Educational Institutes (both private and public) of the country.

These HEIs have adopted a total no. of 3,555 villages for development through the UBA scheme. Moreover, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has issued guidelines to foster social responsibility, recommending the integration of HEI programs with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the introduction of courses on community engagement and social responsibility.

4.Institutional Level Interventions

Several Indian universities and higher education institutions have independently taken initiatives to promote social responsibility. Many institutions have established service-learning programs, community outreach centers, and social entrepreneurship cells, actively involving students and faculty in addressing societal challenges.

These initiatives often collaborate with local communities and NGOs to find sustainable solutions to pressing issues. For example, BPS Mahila Vishwavidyalaya has established a center for university-community interface through small nature-friendly technologies and courses like integrated energy resource management. Law schools have set up Legal Aid Clinics for raising legal awareness in rural areas, and science and engineering courses involve fieldwork projects related to rural tourism, energy, housing, and sanitation. The Dayalbagh Educational Institute makes fieldwork supporting agricultural operations mandatory for students and faculty.

5.Rationale and Challenges

The rationale behind promoting university social responsibility in India is multi-faceted. First, higher education institutions are funded by taxpayers' money and are expected to contribute to society's welfare, which they can achieve through social responsibility activities that demonstrate accountability and a commitment to the common good. Second, fostering a sense of social responsibility among students prepares them to become responsible citizens who contribute positively to society throughout their lives, instilling ethical values, empathy, and a sense of community. Third, universities possess knowledge and expertise that can be applied to address various social challenges, making them essential partners in sustainable development efforts. Despite the growing recognition of the importance of university social responsibility, there are several challenges associated with its implementation.

One major challenge is the lack of clarity and consensus on what constitutes social responsibility in the context of higher education, leading to varying levels of commitment and engagement among different stakeholders. Additionally, the pressure on universities to produce job-ready graduates often overshadows the importance of social responsibility, especially in a competitive job market. Financial constraints and resource limitations also hinder the effective integration of social responsibility in higher education institutions, making it challenging to allocate adequate funds and personnel for community engagement and social initiatives. Moreover, assessing and measuring the impact of social responsibility initiatives can be challenging, as they lack standardized criteria for evaluation, unlike academic research or teaching. Furthermore, the influence of neoliberal ideology, which prioritizes market demands and individual prosperity, has permeated higher education globally. This perspective often neglects broader social issues, emphasizing universities' focus on academic excellence, research productivity, and economic competitiveness over their social responsibilities.


The concept of university social responsibility has gained traction in India, as higher education institutions increasingly recognize their role in addressing social challenges and contributing to society's well-being. Policy interventions and institutional initiatives have sought to promote social responsibility through community engagement, service-learning programs, and research with societal relevance. The rationale behind these interventions lies in the accountability of universities as public institutions, the need to prepare responsible citizens, and the potential of higher education to contribute to sustainable development. However, challenges such as resource constraints, lack of clarity on social responsibility, and market-oriented pressures continue to pose obstacles to the full realization of university social responsibility. Overcoming these challenges will require concerted efforts from policymakers, university administrators, faculty, students, and civil society to create a conducive environment for social responsibility initiatives in higher education. By doing so, universities can reclaim their historical role as agents of positive social change and contribute meaningfully to the common good. The Indian government and universities must work together to ensure that social responsibility becomes an integral part of the higher education system, allowing students to become responsible citizens and agents of positive change in society. Through comprehensive policy interventions and institutional initiatives, Indian universities can fulfill their role as drivers of sustainable development and contribute significantly to building a just, equitable, and prosperous nation. Only by embracing social responsibility as a core function can Indian universities effectively address the complex challenges facing the nation and contribute to shaping a better future for all.

Meet The Thought Leader

Karan Patel (he/him) is a mentor at GGI an undergraduate from IIT Madras. He is correctly employed with Teachmint, an ed-tech start-up in their strategy team. Prior to Teachmint, he worked at Dalberg Advisors as an analyst where he worked with multi-laterals and international foundations on gender, education and energy sectors. He has also interned in MIT Sloan, Qualcomm and IIM Ahmedabad giving him a plethora of experience in the corporate and academic world. He also started his own venture in hyperlocal air-quality monitoring. Karan is an avid sport-person and masala chai fanatic.

Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)

Pallavi Aggarwal is a public policy student currently pursuing her studies at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay. Her academic focus lies in the realm of higher education, with a particular specialization in community-university engagement.

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


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