National mainstreaming of community-based research: Rajesh Tandon, PRIA

New Delhi: It is a rare phenomenon when a progressive, innovative and transformative approach to research is mainstreamed in national policy. But this is precisely what Indonesia has done.

The national policy on higher education in Indonesia mandates community engagement by all undergraduate students. Called KKN in Bhasa Indonesia, this policy places students in a community for 6-8 weeks with the task of supporting local research for planning local development. The students get credit for it, the community gets a locally relevant development plan, and the public system gets authentic and current data about the socio-economic profile and asset inventory of the community.

Going a step further, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) in Indonesia’s federal government has mandated the use of community-based participatory action research to be the methodology for KKN in all Islamic universities and institutes. Indonesia has 55 universities under its Islamic higher education system. All undergraduate students of these universities learn the CBR methodology and practice under KKN. Faculty members in each such university have been initially trained to build such capacity amongst students before they undertake KKN.

Which other country has mainstreamed such methodologies of community engagement and community-based participatory action research?

During the 12th Plan in India, the government had included a provision for strengthening community engagement in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In 2014, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had even created a scheme –‘Centre for Fostering Social Responsibility’; learning and practicing community-based participatory research was made an integral part of this scheme. Alas, the scheme never got off the ground!

Now, the draft recommendations in the New Education Policy in India focus on relevance of curriculum and values of citizenship. Strengthening community engagement and using CBR methodology can serve both these purposes, as Indonesian experiences are already demonstrating.

The most exciting outcome of such an approach to education in Indonesian universities is the meaningfulness experienced by students. Several powerful stories of this approach were recently shared in an international conference, “Collaborative Creation Leads to Sustainable Change”, on University-Community Engagement  hosted by Universitas Islam Negeri (State Islamic University), Indonesia, supported by Ministry of Religious Affairs, in Surabaya, Indonesia between 2 and 5 August 2016.