The objective of the second Empower
European Universities conference (Maastricht 23-24 November) in
Professor Yoon's view is presenting the academic society in Europe
with the crucial ideal of autonomy.
Jo Ritzen, former Dutch Education Minister and initiator of
'Empower European Universities', agrees with the almost existential
dimension of the topic. "It's like asking yourself 'what is the
chief end of a man'. How can universities do the utmost for
society?" For him the main challenge lies in changing the culture
of leadership within academia. Political influence should be kept
at arm's length, because their emphasis is unfortunately on
incidents only. Ritzen: "We need to move towards a 'high trust-high
penalty'-model, where trust has to be earned every day anew."
But 'changing academic culture', what does that imply? Jo
Ritzen: "We have little tradition in training academic leaders.
That is something we can start to tackle now. By sending university
leaders to leadership programs like we did in Maastricht. By
designing career paths. Often deans are appointed by default. I
even know of a situation where the person who was absent at a
faculty meeting, was put up for the job!"
In his contribution, professor Luc Soete (UNU-MERIT, University Maastricht) linked the
empowerment of European universities to the need for national
governments to re-prioritize their spending in order to face the
financial and economic crisis. "Only through long-term investments
we are able to see real growth convergence and a surge in
international competitiveness of manufacturing, agriculture and
tradable services. In 2008, we have witnessed a 'socialization of
debt', now we need a 'socialization of knowledge."
Lighting up the Acropolis
Soete, the next Rector of Maastricht University, did not leave
it at that, but came up with some provocative ideas. "EU countries
perform different on different public services. Why not have the
best performing countries export those services to other member
states? Why not have the Dutch tax office collect taxes in Greece?
And why not consider the bad performing countries as pilot cases
for innovation? Let Philips organize the lighting of the Acropolis
with the newest LED-technology and let Athens benefit from a lower
electricity bill?" Universities can play their role in the
structural change Prof. Soete foresees. Especially in
Southern Europe there is scope for investment in human capital.
Universities could seize this opportunity.
Professor Lauritz Holm-Nielsen, rector of Aarhus University gave
a clear example of his - already much empowered - university. The
Maastricht audience was much impressed by the size of the
Aarhus University Research Fund (a kind of endowment), with 1
billion euro on the balance sheet. Mr. Holm-Nielsen: "It's
important as a country to offer world class research platforms,
like we offer for example Storage Ring and Zackenberg."
Aarhus University completed a thorough organizational reform: the
board now consists of academics, each with a broad horizontal
focus, for instance on 'research', or 'talent development'.
Empower universities through greater
Professor Yoon concludes: "External inconveniences hinder
universities to empower themselves. I studied in Paris in the
seventies. At that time universities were greatly respected in
society, but in the last decades, the European universities the
situation changed." As an observer from a different continent, Ms.
Yoon has a sharp eye for the weaknesses in the European academic
world. Her verdict on the current position of universities: "You
face restriction of government budgets, but have little other
sources of income." Therefor autonomy is for an important part
defined as 'financial autonomy', for instance through building
A next meeting for 'Empower European Universities' is already
set for 22-23 June 2012. The road to autonomy starts now and Jo
Ritzen expects to have a concrete policy agenda ready by June.
"This will not be rocket science, but a couple of highly useful
ideas to create more academic autonomy in Europe."
Read here the report on the scorecard the European
University Association (EUA) created for mapping university
autonomy all over Europe.