Concluding Remarks - R. AragundeDocument Transcript
Concluding remarks ….Dr. Rafael AragundeInteramerican University of Puerto RicoI have to start by acknowledging the rich variety of positions presented by the different participants. Theinvitation to think ourselves under the guise of our relationship to the Global Agenda was answered by awide diversity of scholars from all parts of the world: Australia and Sweden; Kenya and Pakistan; Braziland Malaysia; India and Lithuania; UK and Ghana; France and Japan; Israel and Jamaica; Egypt and theUSA are a few of the places from which colleagues have flown to Puerto Rico to think and converseabout the alternative paths to the future that Higher Education proposes.In the opening session on Tuesday evening we were invited to “think about trends, developments andpreoccupations” in higher education, in the words of Juan Ramón de la Fuente. And that’s what was donein the next two days and a half.The morning session on Wednesday was crowned by the visual richness of the world some of us – thevery privileged who work in Higher Education institutions - are starting to inhabit. That is the kind ofworld we would all like to share and yet we know perfectly well that it won’t be easy to achieve. There isno need to insist that there was a train of thought throughout the conference that stressed this alternativepath to the future. There are great possibilities of development, many seem to have told us in their ownways, and it’s just a matter of following what science and learning, understood and defined in weberianterms, have to offer. But will this suffice? It hasn’t in the past. What kind of guarantee do we have thatthat kind of scientific and industrial rationality will do justice to those who share the planet? How oftensince the Enlightenment, and the period that followed, where many and not only positivists, thought thatscience and its progress would put an end to injustice, have we read and heard that techno-scientificdevelopment will solve all of our problems?But that same Wednesday morning session gave us another alternative pathway to the future. Not onlyhigher education as a public good is now contested in countries where universities have been part oftheir culture for centuries and soon for a millennium, but also in lands where higher education hasn’t hadtoo many birthdays and where resources that were scarce at times today are being fought over becausethey are not there anymore. What were many of our colleagues telling us, never losing their smiles andhopes? In fact, at times I thought that they were not telling us enough about their needs. But from what Iheard it seems that they don’t need the competition they are getting from all kinds of foreign universities,besides not counting with a state that will support them properly. This alternative path to the future whichis being forced on some institutions is obviously much more challenging for they must face, from a weakposition, the unpredictable behavior of markets and their irrationality. It would be interesting to knowhow many agreements were made during these days between those that are representing universities thathad a chance to develop with the help of strong national support and no foreign competition anduniversities that have too much of the later and hardly anything of the former. These are the challengesfacing a globalized humanity. Are Higher Education institutions addressing them?, was the first questionwe had to address.There was an evident consensus in respect to funding and what it means in reality. No higher educationinstitution feels satisfied with what it has or receives. There was a time when in the name of autonomyFaculty resisted what was conveniently thought improper state intervention. Those were the days when
research was a thing done in very few universities around the world. Money would come in from the stateor as revenue from moderate tuition and there was not much else we would do besides “teaching”.Legislatures didn’t question us. But history has a way of laughing at its inexperienced actors. Anyway,during the conference nobody questioned the assertion that money goes nowadays where politicians andbig multinational companies want it to go. That was the unanimous answer given to the second questionHow and where are current dominant funding models steering higher education and research? Butshouldn’t the question have been phrased differently. We should have forced ourselves to think about thepossibility of other funding models that don’t include raising student tuition and becoming slaves ofcapitalism’s latest trend? Because that’s what we have been doing. This question, phrased this way, wouldhave given us the chance to identify alternative paths. Stated as it was, it doesn’t seem to have inspiredmuch thought. But isn’t the need to find new funding models one of the biggest challenges that we arefacing, especially in the developing countries where research in general terms is, very often, not a priority.Yet research or whatever we get obsessed with doesn’t need to be a priority, as was clearly suggested bycertain panelists, and which takes us to the third alternative path to the future that, we must admit, was notenough dwelled upon. And this third path is not only a very valid answer to that second question, whichwe would rephrase. It is also a convenient answer to the first one and, if you allow me, to the thirdquestion we dealt with, which was: Is globalization setting a new agenda for internationalization ofhigher education? Nosce te ipsum. Know yourself. Work on your strengths. Get rid of what is notrelevant. Why force your Faculty to publish in magazines that don’t add much to what you are, or thatnobody reads. Productivity is highly overrated. The most important things in our lives – all experiences -love, health, culture, are all the results of a change of rhythm. Globalization might be a fact, but youdon’t need to be obsessive about sending or bringing students and faculty just because everybody is doingit. Internationalization opens up doors, but how many doors can you walk through when you want to getto know a different culture?Once you get to know yourself, be yourself. But be yourself and undertake a project that will reconsiderfor example the way we compete with each other, as stated yesterday by one of the panelist. We cancompete to improve each other, not to beat the other. We must rescue public discourse where we makeexplicit the values involved in the decisions that are being made. We need a vision of what is success sothat its criteria is not defined by performance, management managed by the latest fad, or based on amisunderstanding of scholarship. Our business is knowledge. And we can pursue a knowledge thatcontributes to a world public culture; that resists manipulative elites; and that makes sure that ethics is notdisplaced by pergormance. Did we insist enough on this?Concluding, lots of good things are going on in our institutions and what we heard is definitelyencouraging. But what fills us with optimism are all those projects that stem out from institutions’strengths and from a courageous evaluation of what is really taking place in the world. If restructuring isnecessary, it should take into account that since neo liberalism spread its wings more than two decadesago we haven’t gotten richer, higher education has lost much of what it once pretended to be and thatcritical approaches to these realities have gotten scarcer. But then, higher education does posses a hugeamounts of creativity. Based on that, we certainly must work on that third path that will respect thedifferent.
I cannot end without thanking Eva Egron Polak and our Chancellor Marilyna Wayland and their teams fortheir efforts. They did organize a very successful and enjoyable meeting. We should also thank PresidentManuel Fernós for bringing us the 14th. General conference and IAU President Juan Ramón de la Fuentefor his support and, aware that I might be breaking with the protocol – why not – I invite everybody togive them a round of applause for a great and unforgettable week that we know took endless days toorganize and that has been a real success.