Autonomy key for stronger European universities
The objective of the second
Jo Ritzen, former Dutch Education Minister and initiator of’Empower European Universities’, agrees with the almost existentialdimension of the topic. “It’s like asking yourself ‘what is thechief end of a man’. How can universities do the utmost forsociety?” For him the main challenge lies in changing the cultureof leadership within academia. Political influence should be keptat arm’s length, because their emphasis is unfortunately onincidents only. Ritzen: “We need to move towards a ‘high trust-highpenalty’-model, where trust has to be earned every day anew.”
But ‘changing academic culture’, what does that imply? JoRitzen: “We have little tradition in training academic leaders.That is something we can start to tackle now. By sending universityleaders to leadership programs like we did in Maastricht. Bydesigning career paths. Often deans are appointed by default. Ieven know of a situation where the person who was absent at afaculty meeting, was put up for the job!”
In his contribution, professor Luc Soete (UNU-
Lighting up the Acropolis
Soete, the next Rector of Maastricht University, did not leaveit at that, but came up with some provocative ideas. “EU countriesperform different on different public services. Why not have thebest performing countries export those services to other memberstates? Why not have the Dutch tax office collect taxes in Greece?And why not consider the bad performing countries as pilot casesfor innovation? Let Philips organize the lighting of the Acropoliswith the newest LED-technology and let Athens benefit from a lowerelectricity bill?” Universities can play their role in thestructural change Prof. Soete foresees. Especially inSouthern Europe there is scope for investment in human capital.Universities could seize this opportunity.
Professor Lauritz Holm-Nielsen, rector of Aarhus University gavea clear example of his – already much empowered – university. TheMaastricht audience was much impressed by the size of theAarhus University Research Fund (a kind of endowment), with 1billion euro on the balance sheet. Mr. Holm-Nielsen: “It’simportant as a country to offer world class research platforms,like we offer for example Storage Ring and
Empower universities through greaterautonomy
Professor Yoon concludes: “External inconveniences hinderuniversities to empower themselves. I studied in Paris in theseventies. At that time universities were greatly respected insociety, but in the last decades, the European universities thesituation changed.” As an observer from a different continent, Ms.Yoon has a sharp eye for the weaknesses in the European academicworld. Her verdict on the current position of universities: “Youface restriction of government budgets, but have little othersources of income.” Therefor autonomy is for an important partdefined as ‘financial autonomy’, for instance through buildingUS-style endowments.
A next meeting for ‘Empower European Universities’ is alreadyset for 22-23 June 2012. The road to autonomy starts now and JoRitzen expects to have a concrete policy agenda ready by June.”This will not be rocket science, but a couple of highly usefulideas to create more academic autonomy in Europe.”