A university's new chancellor has called on institutions to use their "convening power" to proactively address local problems.
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, whose Grameen system of microfinance has earned him the title "world's banker to the poor", was installed last month at Glasgow Caledonian University in a ceremony graced by a performance from his opera singer daughter Monica, who flew in from New York for the event.
Although he had been hardly aware of the Scottish institution when it awarded him an honorary degree in 2008, Professor Yunus told Times Higher Education that he had been very impressed by the university, particularly its "fireball" principal and vice-chancellor, Pamela Gillies.
She had been "excited by the idea of microcredit" and had challenged him to bring it to Glasgow. This has now borne fruit in the launch of the Grameen Scotland Foundation to oversee the running of microlending in the country.
Their discussions also led to the creation of the Yunus Centre for Social Business and then the Grameen Caledonian College of Nursing in Professor Yunus' native Bangladesh, which Barbara Parfitt, Glasgow Caledonian's dean of nursing, volunteered to run. Although it currently has only 100 students, Professor Yunus said that it could become a prototype for more and larger self-funding colleges in Bangladesh, improving national healthcare while giving girls opportunities beyond "getting married, having children and that kind of dull life".
In the future, he hoped that nurses would "train for three years in Bangladesh, come to Glasgow to do master's degrees and then return home to become faculty members and lead other training courses".
He was less keen on students from his home country sitting complete degrees in Scotland, since "they get so used to the system they feel out of water when they go back and don't have the right sort of openings to continue their careers. They often end up feeling more comfortable in Europe. [Training split between the two locations] gives them more of a stake in remaining in Bangladesh."
As chancellor, Professor Yunus hopes to play "a bridge-building role, encouraging the students and faculty to get involved more closely in the local community". While universities often confined such efforts to "little research projects", it would be better if they acted "not in the spirit of doing research, but in the spirit of...getting things done".
In coordinating the Grameen Scotland Foundation, he added, the university had drawn on "one of the capacities it has but hardly uses: its convening power, the moral authority to bring people together".