IAU Durban Conference, August 20-25, 2000 11th General Conference: Universities as Gateway to the Future Plenary Keynotes IChanging Priorities – Constant Values: Today’s universities and the challenges of the futureFabio Roversi-Monaco, Rector, University of BolognaIntroduction.Any reference to the development of universities in the future must take account of the principles thatthe community of universities embraced, spontaneously and with great enthusiasm, in signing theMagna Charta Universitatum (the Universal Declaration of Academic Rights) in Bologna onSeptember 18, 1988.Anyone familiar with the history of universities knows that these principles were defined and set downin writing for the first time, taking into account the profound differences that characterise theorganisation and workings of the various universities in the principal countries of the world.Rights.That these principles were recognised so willingly as the shared heritage of the world’s universitiesmeans that there existed, and still exists, though not until then clearly defined, a set of rules and ideasso deeply rooted as to be universally followed. I believe that in drafting the Magna ChartaUniversitatum an attempt was made to define certain fundamental rights, rooted in the conscience offaculty and University communities. One reason why these rights were made explicit is that on manyoccasions in the course of this century they have been infringed.Independence.While respecting the diversity of the societies in which they operated, universities must jealouslyguard their moral and scientific independence vis-à-vis every kind of political and economic power,since they have the task of critically transmitting knowledge, bringing together teaching and researchin an inseparable union.To meet these priority needs, universities must be the forum for the free exchange of ideas. They needto be capable of following the evolution of society’s requirements through progress in scientificknowledge.This means working towards mutual understanding and interaction between different cultures, towardstolerance and communication, with close links between those who have the skills for handing onknowledge (that is, faculty) and those who have the capacity and desire to acquire it (that is, students).You may say: "We hold these truths to be self-evident". But how long have universities in the variouscountries been able to follow these principles coherently? How many times have universities becomeinstruments in the hands of regimes that have not only denied their autonomy but freedom itself?It is therefore important to lay down these principles for universities, that in many circumstance havebeen attacked and undermined for promoting them. This reference to principles takes on a greatersignificance if it leads to the definition of objectives for the future.University autonomy and self-regulation in the critical transmission of knowledge, independence fromevery kind of power, the importance of being open to the needs of the contemporary world, theinseparable nature of research and teaching: all these aspects must be redefined, in order to guard andpromote them in a society in which universities, as institutions, must play a leading role, with the task,more important than ever before, of promoting critical awareness.Fragmentation.But our values are rooted in the past and in my view this is the most important lesson. It is thereforeworth examining the role of universities more closely. Whereas the expression universities refers to aglobal attempt to formulate coherent views of the world, today universities represent (in the words ofthe chemist and Nobel prize winner Prigogine) "a mosaic of fragmented professional approaches". In
practical terms, the activities carried out within universities are many, varied and completely separate.In the past, universities were often considered to be divorced from reality, and were known as "ivorytowers". Now they have come to resemble, as Bernard Crick, in provocative vein, has pointed out"promiscuous and frenetic department stores".This is what we need to consider, in an attempt to come to terms with developments that appear to bebeyond our control.The first universities were born out of the raising of awareness in Europe at the end of the eleventhcentury, with the need to create areas of freedom for research and teaching, without allegiance topolitical power or religious orders.The foundation of the university, its essential constitutional basis, is freedom, the freedom of scienceand the incorporation of this freedom into the educational process. But, as we can see in the earlyyears, when universities were set up as an expression of the concerns and needs of part of society,there is no doubt that universities have played and must play a leading role in society.At one stage universities lost contact with their origins and remained apart and isolated from society ashostages to their scientific and cultural pride. Those days are over now.Communication.The neutrality of science and its claim to objectivity have been seen to be mythical qualities.Universities have now opened up to the requirements that emerge from civil context in which theylive, taking full part in world events in this century.But now as never before, the historical role of universities makes it necessary for them tocommunicate, to interpret the requirements emerging from the rapid development of a technologicaland mass media civilisation to which university research has made such an important contribution.This leads to another important point: interpreting the development of society and helping to guidethat development does not mean that the position of universities vis-à-vis such a process need not becritical. Rather, universities must take on a role as the critical conscience of society.We need to be aware of the danger of setting up a model of academic life that is not part of thedifficult process of history. In the words of Edgard Morin, "the university has a mission over thecenturies with the primary task of conserving the past, while referring to the present and preparing forthe future".Since the Middle Ages, universities have been the institutions that memorise, formalise and reproduceculture. They conserve and perpetuate not only acquired knowledge, but also and above all criticalawareness, the foundation for all academic disciplines.I would like to underline an important concept at this point. In order to survive, universities must notonly maintain their critical awareness in the development of knowledge, but must also apply thiscritique to their own role in society. Universities are affected by the crisis of the contemporary worldand must play a part in dealing with its problems.Revived Vision.We must go forward from a phase in which universities left the definition of their aims to society, to aphase aimed at reviving the traditional research commitment relating to the fundamental origins ofhuman choice. This means taking a wider view than that taken at present, also in philosophical terms.It is in this sense that today’s universities must not only apply a critical approach to the variousdisciplines, but also take a critical look at themselves in redefining their aims.Universities have a fundamental role in promoting a less restricted view of culture, in which both thesciences strictly speaking and the humanities are able to communicate and play their part."I have always been fascinated by the strange destiny of Western science", says Prigogine, whichclearly represents a triumph of human creativity, but is also at the origin of the present-dayfragmentation of our culture.The disquieting phenomenon of knowledge capable of challenging every rule, every proof, everytraditional value has resulted in radical changes, but has itself suffered radical changes.Today there is a certain amount of dissatisfaction with a form of human knowledge that is highlyfragmented.Universities must therefore play an important role in promoting a less restricted view of what culture,in which both the sciences and the humanities play their part; in which science moves away from the
exclusive idea of dominion over nature to come closer to what may be called a new naturalism or newhumanism. This leads us back to the origins of modern science.The divisions that have characterised the development of the various scientific disciplines, with anexponential growth of knowledge and an increase in specialisation, have also created insuperablebarriers between the disciplines. The pressure towards the promotion of interdisciplinary study istherefore well founded and comprehensible.An interdisciplinary approach is a necessity, though still an insufficient remedy for a fundamental andinevitable evil, the cultural division within the university that has become deeper and deeper.Adaptation and Fads.However, although universities must live in close contact with society, they must be careful not toadapt too readily to changing markets, changing economic conditions and passing fads.This is because any adaptation to immediate circumstances, if excessive, is not a sign of vitality, but asign of a loss of substance, of ageing and even death if it means being cut off from our roots.We are living in a difficult period of transition. Science alone is not sufficient, but while problemssuch as food production, healthcare and respect for planet Earth cannot be solved only throughscience, they will never be solved without it.Allen Bloom, in his controversial book The Closing of the American Mind, says that "highereducation has neglected democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students". Yet the idea ofthe university represents an attempt to reassert the dignity of the individual in the context of modemscience.Universities have to deal not only with the considerable problems of the general crisis of Westernculture; at the same time, they have to deal with the requests of society and fulfil their institutionalrole, respecting the principles already mentioned. These tendencies may put the traditional functionthat universities already carry out in society in a new light. They underline the need for education thatis more learner-centred and oriented towards the community, taking account in particular of the needsof production and the public administration.Research.As for research, this is a decisive factor for achieving higher levels of productivity in the most highlydeveloped industrial societies.In this connection the financial contribution of the industrial sector and national Governments hasmade it possible to set up various research centres and institutes on campus, for developingprogrammes with entrepreneurial potential.The development of these institutions has given rise to a certain amount of concern in the sense thatthe universities’ commitment to basic research may be determined by the growing focus on short-termresearch of a less fundamental nature, since priority is increasingly given to entrepreneurialprogrammes.Another concern is that scientists may lose their intellectual autonomy, that is their freedom to decideon research matters themselves.However, it is difficult to believe that all the research currently carried out, and the cost of funding it,can be justified if society and the economy do not utilise the results or if they do not consultuniversity-trained researchers.Research confers a special meaning on higher education, considering that it determines teachingobjectives and sets its limits. Research pushes back the frontiers of knowledge and introduces studentsto the world of science, characterised by doubt and uncertainty. As in the past, higher educationintroduces a particular style of analysis, since education and research are not limited solely to theclearly defined aspects of science and its practical applications, however important they may be, butproposes answers that are not definitive to questions that have perhaps not yet been rigorouslyformulated. Precisely because of the role it performs and the expectations that it raises, highereducation cannot avoid carrying out a form of self-assessment: if it fails to do so, others will carry outsuch an examination.This brings us on to the problem of the organisation of our universities.Whereas certain events in recent years, leading in the direction we wish to follow, show that universityautonomy has increased, other events point in the opposite direction. For this reason it is worth
reflecting on the way ahead and focusing our attention in order to be prepared for the future.Long Term Trends.However, the need to review the role of the universities is also due to the inevitable result of theirmarked increase in number in the past 50 years, as well as the enormous increase in number ofstudents and their demand for knowledge and professionalism. Furthermore, other institutions arecarrying out and offering research and the training, thus eroding the monopoly previously byuniversities.In some countries, universities are affected by this proliferation of other institutions, and no guaranteeexists for safeguarding universities, unless they embark on a process of renewal to ensure thefulfilment of their traditional mission.I do not however believe that the proliferation of courses offering training and research can supersedethe role of the universities. Moreover, I accept even less an extreme process specialisation created bymore and more independent institutions that can substitute the role of traditional universities. I do notbelieve that one can imagine access to knowledge based merely on casual networks set up byimmediate needs caused by a particular historical period or the shifting sands of the moment.I want to emphasise that too often research investment has had exploitable and trendy characteristics,and at other times these same projects have mainly fulfilled the requirements of the economicexigencies of certain countries.This simply will not do!A Durable Institution.What is necessary is a solid and durable institution, which not only realises its duty to contribute to theeconomic and social process, but at the same time strives to outdo itself in contributing continuouslyto the progression of knowledge. Such an institution would be able to renew and review itself, in sucha way as to represent an outstanding model of access to qualitative knowledge.The awareness that for centuries the combined art of teaching and research has distinguisheduniversities as opposed to other institutions, notwithstanding the many obstacles, justifies our beliefthat universities must be constantly viewed as essential institutions in society.What other institutions tend to parcel out for the sake of convenience and improved organisation oroutput, remains intact at the universities. The specific aim is to exclude routine in favour of creativityand to privilege critical ability. They not only develop faculties, which go beyond simple learning, butabove all they respect the duty (not merely a moral one) not to turn a craft-made laboratory into asupermarket of knowledge.Contemporary society demands at a private, and at a public institutional level, men and women ofcompetence who are destined to be integrated into large organisational structures, and are capable ofmeeting the demands of a social system and enterprises in which knowledge requires an everincreasing value.Traditional Liberal Professions.I feel that traditional liberal professions are being surpassed by this apparently superior training whichseems likely to become pervasive in order to sustain these large organisational structures which tend toglobalise the higher education market. They had made their impact by maximising the new techniquesof information and communication.In fact, a space has emerged in higher education and Europe having taken heed has proved itscommitment in June 1999 when 29 ministers at Bologna signed an agreement on the subject. The truthis that we are dealing with a global space, which is fully trans-national.Universities must develop such skills but this does not mean that their tasks and goals are complete. Itis also the duty of universities to strengthen undergraduate programs and research in those basicdisciplines less linked to this phase of pressing reform, but at the same time still fundamental toacademic life.Surfing – the Superficial.Superficial and brief technical procedures offering shortcuts do not exist. A superficial and uncriticalreliance on technology for technology’s sake is not our goal: rather, we aim at long-lasting progress, to
be first achieved and subsequently passed on, through our students, to society at large.This is the only way to prepare young people so that they may cope with change, and to makeinstitutions aware that the development and diffusion of higher education are not simply driven by amomentary economic or social need, but constitute a cultural requirement to society as a whole.Similarly, this is the only way to take full advantage of the profound technological improvements andof the impressively heightened ease of access to knowledge through information technology.New Prospects.New exciting prospects are opening up for academic institutions: the democratisation of knowledge,the continuing education, the development of applied research for rapid solution of technical andsocial problems and the support and development of enterprise. The latter, in particular, thrives onresearch aimed at solving general problems and introducing innovative ideas, thus effectivelystimulating new needs and setting out to answer them promptly and in a global space. In this context,one of our priorities should be to establish strong bonds, which enterprise, through research aimed atits development and through the transfer of learning and innovation.Goals and Means.Such multidisciplinary professional services can only truly be provided by universities. Theinternational community must strive for these goals, guaranteeing that each academic institutions,lecturers, professors and researchers are provided with the necessary tooling which will allow them tooperate for the general benefit of society.In order to do this, the exchange of ideas and human resources must be favoured, and financial andlegal support must be provided applied research, patenting, and for the creation of new enterprisesthrough a direct or indirect intervention of universities, e.g. enterprise incubator and academic spin-off.Quality.To ensure this, the notion of quality is crucial and must be guaranteed through accreditation and strictquality control. It is at this junction that the autonomy of research which universities enjoy meets withtheir social responsibility.Quality must be required from the universities and must be transparently provided for by the latter.This can be obtained by adopting already existing measures which need to be more consistentlyapplied and better tuned: e.g. self-evaluation of the entire national system at an internal and externallevel and the established need for an international accreditation system. These are partially differenttools, which answer one and the same requirement.Conclusion.Many of the principles that were laid down in the Magna Charta Universitatum have been appliedonly in part and not in a satisfactory way. In particular, the need for innovation has not yet led to achange of mentality and the relationship with society is still a difficult one.It must however be recognised that there have been positive developments, with a number ofuniversities becoming aware of their founding role.The mission over the centuries to which I referred earlier must therefore be maintained. Culture mustmake its contribution to everyday life, but its function is not to adapt at all costs to everyday life (itmust be conceived as a continuous circuit in which each element relates to the others and enrichesthem). This is because, as well as its mission over the centuries, the university has a social mission,running right through society itself. This may be seen in the inscription on the façade of the Universityof Heidelberg "am lebendigen Geist" (to the living spirit).