Below, we present key presentations and responses from the conference sessions as well as special evening addresses. These words reflect the high quality of debate across all sessions of the three conferences.
At this late moment in the evening, I will confine myself to a few basic points. But first, I want to look back 40 years. I was involved in a major government review of higher education in Britain. Its outcome was the historic Robbins Committee on Higher Education, linked to the name of the Chairman, Lord Robbins, a professor at the London School of Economics and one of the country’s leading economists.
Since then there have been enormous changes. At the time of Robbins, we had 30 universities; now there are 120 or so. Then, six percent of the age group went to university; now, it is 48 percent. Moreover, there are now far more part-time and mature students, and universities play an increasing role in life-long learning. Government funding has fallen drastically over 10 years – a drop of perhaps 40 percent in unit costs per student – so that universities are under enormous pressure to do their job and protect standards.
The academies of the future will do one thing we do not do today. They will teach the art of self-discovery. There is nothing more fundamental in education. We turn out students from our universities who know how to give answers, but not how to ask questions. The wisdom centres in our culture do not reach our students. They leave universities with skills for the workplace, but no knowledge of how to live, or what living is for. They are not taught how to see. They are not taught how to listen. They are not taught the great art of obedience, and how it precedes self-mastery. They are not taught the true art of reading. True reading is not just passing our eyes over words on a page, or gathering information, or even understanding what is being read. True reading is a creative art. It means seeing first; and then an act of the imagination. Higher reading ought to be a new subject in the academies of the future. As we read, so we are. I meet people in all walks of life, and most notoriously in the fields of literature and science, who, though professionals, do not actually read what is in front of them. They read what is only already inside them. I suspect this is true of listening; and that it is happening now, even as I speak to you, or as you read this page.
Can the university withstand the global culture of pluralism? I can offer three short remarks. I confess I am bringing more questions than answers, but we university people know that such questions may be important.
This, the first conference organised by the Europaeum, addresses the future of European universities, a theme that is both timeless and timely – but it further addresses two more specific, and potentially contradictory, themes. The first is the idea of borderless education, which is typically associated with the forces of globalisation (and so with the liberalisation, and even commercialisation, of higher education). The second is the idea of bridging Europe, which is associated with the process of creating a European higher education space and, therefore, is the responsibility of nation states and of other European institutions.
I am honoured to be here before representatives of the oldest European universities, and since I have dedicated my life to teaching and research at a prestigious European university, I would like to address the topic of our meeting from a viewpoint that I hold to be fundamental for the future of European universities and for Europe itself: knowledge.
This report emerges from an international investigation into how European universities can – and must – operate at the forefront of the Knowledge Revolution in the 21st century, involving some 200 experts, academics, policy-advisors, politicians, and practitioners and 50 graduate students drawn from across and beyond Europe. What follows is a selection of what can be deemed to be key statements, key quotes and key recommendations, worthy of further and wider consideration emerging from a three-year inquiry. Not every participant will, of course, have agreed with every recommendation.
The Spirit of Education
European universities should not seek simply to ape the leading American universities because of any feeling of inferiority. They should not live in the shadow of the Ivy League. They should seek to study US universities and other models of success to improve their performance and all round quality while understanding and maintaining their own special qualities, particularly linked to of diversity of approaches in study and learning, in funding support, and in composition of student and staff bodies. It was agreed that they must then move forward with confidence
Universities have a key role to play in the production of economic and social knowledge. Universities also have a key role in the production of the qualified, the professional and the leaders. However, universities must always aim beyond merely producing more and more ‘trained’ people, with the right skills that meet the immediate demands of society and government. They must be citizens. They must be complete individuals.