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Universities between market and humanism
Working group „How to promote societal sustainability through higher education“
Council of Europe, Strasbourg, November 20-21 2007
1. In the past, higher education was the mainstay of „disinterested, long-term“ thinking. The increase in the number of students and the resulting massification of higher education in wider society has changed this and higher education today needs to serve both the purpose of immediate needs (eg. societal, political and market needs), as well as long-term thinking.
2. In the past the universities were the primary force in society with the task to search for new knowledge. In modern societies the creators of knowledge have multiplied. For several decades now the universities no longer hold the supremacy over creation of practical knowledge or applied research, but in the past they retained the „monopoly“ on fundamental research. This is changing and today the university is just one among the possible creators of all kinds of human knowledge
The university should take over the task of validation of the knowledge produced in wider society.
3. The disciplinary boundaries that exist today were developed for the kinds of research („knowledge production“) that were conducted in the past. The challenges and questions facing todays' societies – including, but not exclusive, the environment, multiculturality, advances in natural and technical sciences – span disciplinary boundaries at least as often as they stay inside them. Higher education needs to adapt to these changes.
4. In today's world more citizens need to deal with more every day complexities of varying nature and scale than was ever the case in the past. These complexities include those of cultural, technological, or simply wider societal origin. Careers of young people in Europe today will be more flexible than ever before and will include unprecedented requirements on skills for dealing with complexities. Higher education needs to account for this and prepare the entire society, including those in school and those who have left school, for life in the society of complexity.
This includes the teaching of essential democratic and tolerance values to all students. Higher education institutions should be equipped for this purpose and they should be allowed to take risks in the education of future intellectuals in European societies.
5. The massification of higher education has lead to the diversification of higher eduction. The missions of higher education institutions in Europe today are much more diverse than even as recently as twenty years ago. As a result, the definition and understanding of quality in different kinds of higher education needs to be reassessed. Approaches to quality assurance in higher education will need to be diversified as well in the long run, and quality needs to be assured in both teaching and research.
6. If higher education becomes the norm in contemporary Europe, the persons who do not have higher education will face additional challenges. These challenges will not only include career prospects, but may also include cultural or ethnic exclusion, formation of new social classes, and social inequality. Higher education needs to be made available to all members of a society.
Higher education needs to have adequate funding, beyond public funds and tuition fees, for this task without sacrificing quality of teaching and research. At the same time, national policies should allow higher education to take risks in their teaching and research tasks.
7. Different aspects of globalization which include but do not exhaust economy, multiculturalism and fundamentalism, place new challenges on the citizens of Europe. In today's world they need on an every day basis the knowledge, skills and competences that they did not need in the past. There is need to discuss and define these new needs of citizens of Europe, and these are likely to include the values of democracy, human rights and respect for different cultures. Higher education should provide for the new needs of European citizens. The development of national qualifications frameworks provide an opportunity for the implementation of these new contents.
Rapporteur: Luka Juros, firstname.lastname@example.org