22-23 June 2006. Council of Europe, Strasbourg

Context and Challenge

Issues of democracy, its contents and culture as much as its form, define the political debate of our societies. In Europe, North America and other regions of the world, democracy is a major focus of public debate. Healthy democracies can only thrive and develop through open debate about the nature and future of democracy.

Yet, along with the global spread of democratic ideas and societies, a crisis of commitment to and practice of democracy persists. Democracy cannot exist without strong institutions and sound legislation, but it also cannot work without being based on democratic culture. Education and schooling are decisive forces shaping the democratic development of societies; and universities, in turn, are strategic institutions for the democratic development of schooling and societies.

A democratic culture encompasses democratic values, ways of knowing and acting, ethical judgments, analytical competencies, and skills of engagement. It includes concern for the sustainable well being of fellow human beings as well as of the environment in which we live. It includes awareness of and concern for human rights as well as openness to the cultural diversity of human experience and willingness to give due consideration to the views of others.

Higher education cannot remain indifferent to this challenge.

Council of Europe Higher Education Forum

On June 22 – 23, 2006 the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Higher Education and Research (CDESR) will organize a Forum on Higher Education and Democratic Culture: Citizenship, Human Rights and Civic Responsibility (working title) at Council of Europe Headquarters in Strasbourg. The Forum will be organized in close cooperation with the US Steering Committee of the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy, comprised of the American Council on Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and Campus Compact. It will follow up and build on related previous Council of Europe activities such as the pilot project on the University as a Site of Citizenship, organised jointly with a consortium of US higher education organizations, with the University of Pennsylvania playing a leading role, and the Council of Europe initiative for the European Year of Citizenship through Education in 2005. 
The European University Association (EUA) will be closely associated, and other major European stakeholders will also be invited to participate.

The Forum will gather high level policy makers in North American and European higher education institutions and public authorities, as well as some higher education policy makers from other parts of the world. The purpose of the Forum will be to explore the responsibility of higher education for advancing sustainable democratic culture and to invite participants to discuss a declaration and practical follow-up activities.

The Forum will address a number of key issues such as

  • i. Fostering democratic cultures: inclusion, social cohesion and intercultural dialogue; 
  • ii. Promoting human rights and democratic citizenship: teaching, research and public engagement; 
  • iii. Building sustainable democratic communities: knowledge, actions and civic responsibility.

The Forum, the declaration and any ensuing activities are intended to initiate a common major awareness raising effort for the need to increase the commitment of higher education institutions to a democratic culture and sustainable societies.

Main documents

Declaration on the Responsibility of Higher Education for Democratic Culture, 23 June 2006


Detailed programme

Speech by Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe