Autonomy key for stronger European universities

Nieuws | de redactie
25 november 2011 | “Europe must do better.” Professor Yoon from the Seoul National University says it with a very friendly smile, but great determination. Policymakers have to empower HE by granting greater autonomy, she states. Experts worldwide discussed this in Maastricht where ScienceGuide joined them.

The objective of the second EmpowerEuropean Universities conference (Maastricht 23-24 November) inProfessor Yoon’s view is presenting the academic society in Europewith the crucial ideal of autonomy.

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-MERIT, University Maastricht) linked theempowerment of  European universities to the need for nationalgovernments to re-prioritize their spending in order to face thefinancial and economic crisis. “Only through long-term investmentswe are able to see real growth convergence and a surge ininternational competitiveness of manufacturing, agriculture andtradable services. In 2008, we have witnessed a ‘socialization ofdebt’, now we need a ‘socialization of knowledge.”

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 Zackenberg.”Aarhus University completed a thorough organizational reform: theboard now consists of academics, each with a broad horizontalfocus, for instance on ‘research’, or ‘talent development’.

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.”

Read here the report on the scorecard the EuropeanUniversity Association (EUA) created for mapping universityautonomy all over Europe.

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief
ScienceGuide is bij wet verplicht je toestemming te vragen voor het gebruik van cookies.
Lees hier over ons cookiebeleid en klik op OK om akkoord te gaan