The social dimension of Higher Education (HE) is one of the overarching themes of the Bologna Process, from Prague (2001), Bergen (2005), London (2007), Leuven (2009) up to Bucharest (2012), having been recognised as crucial to legitimise the process towards the European Higher Education Area.  Recent studies confirm that there is an emerging interest in University Social Responsibility (USR) issues (Larrán 2012). However, most Higher Education institutions (HEIs) are still reluctant to fully implement USR strategies, embracing different social responsibility approaches and mechanisms instead.
In this respect, there is an urgent necessity to collectively reflect and develop dialogue to understand and pursue a more decisive and integrated perspective.

The USR-NET project
The USR-NET – European Network of Socially Responsible Universities is a 30-month (2015-2018) EU co-funded project under the Erasmus+ programme, implemented by 9 partners from 7 EU countries (Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain), experts in their fields.

USR-NET is based on the findings and results of the previous EU co-funded project EU-USR – University Social Responsibility in Europe (527209-LLP-1-2012-1-RO-ERASMUS-ESIN). EU-USR demonstrated an action imbalance in their social dimension of different European universities and regions, mainly due to lack of related policies to promote sustainability at universities (Bottery, 2011; Hancock and Nuttman, 2014) and, encourage members of University communities to support socially sustainable initiatives in higher education (Lee et al., 2013). At the same time, EU-USR project underlined the needs to better understand the term USR both inside and outside the HEIs, increase HEIs’ commitment towards the community in which they operate, fostering inclusion and stakeholder participation and incorporate USR strategies as a transversal topic in students’ curricula.

Project objectives
In this respect, the USR-NET project aims to promote synergy and links among HEIs communities (professors, students and staff) and related stakeholders (enterprises, schools, NGOs, policy-makers, institutions, etc.) having an influence in the labour market and society as a whole.

In particular, USR-NET aims to:

  • conduct a mapping of socially responsible organisations and create a stakeholder database to promote cooperation and synergy;
  • design and test a transferrable blended learning package of transversal contents on HEIs social responsibility to be incorporated into students’ curricula;
  • define a proposed roadmap for possible action and urge for commitment to adopt this package and a USR transversal approach in University faculties.

Project target groups
The project aims to encourage the transfer of knowledge, synergies, good practices and sensibilisation both inside the University community, but also outside, involving all possible social responsibility and civil society stakeholders.

As such, the project targets mainly:

  • University students;
  • University staff (professors, researchers, administrative staff);
  • Professionals from different sectors (enterprises, public authorities, policy makers, schools, NGOs, associations, civil society as a whole).

This approach enhances the project impact at local and regional level, promoting a more enriching USR concept while taking into account all the different perspectives and key actors.

The specific outcomes of the project consist in:

  • Learning guide of transversal contents for Socially Responsible Universities: Methodological development of learning package of transversal contents to enrich the students’ curriculum from a socially responsible overarching approach, capitalising on a solid synergy among University students and staff and other societal stakeholders. 
  • Guide of a Socially Responsible University to raise the awareness for University insiders and outsiders: Set of awareness-raising actions to be implemented both inside (University staff and students), and outside (enterprises, public authorities, policy makers, schools, NGOs, associations, civil society as a whole) HE institutions.

Moreover, an event will be held in Brussels, Belgium, hosted by project leader Conexx-Europe, in November 2017, close to the end of the project, to showcase and celebrate its outcomes while fostering the partners’ networking with related actors in view of promoting sustainability and transferability of the project results to further universities and organisations.