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, 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 Professor of Public Law in the Netherlands and the Dean and Rector of the University of Europe. I already live in very international surroundings. We have only a few hundred students in the College of Europe, but more than forty nationalities. We have only 150 Professors but they are constantly coming and going. In my view, the future of the university is already a reality, although the College of Europe is a small unit and a postgraduate institution.
I have been working a long time in the university as a professor. I’m a middle-level worker from the university, a member of the Scientific Council for Government policy in the Netherlands, and a member of the Royal Academy. I’m also a member of the Global Business Network, based in California. My university is like an idea factory: we try to make a prototype and test it, rather than discuss too much.
The discussion has been summarised to highlight key points. Every attempt has been made to reflect the spirit of the debate. Where it is helpful, contributors to the debate have been identified.
Why “think European”?
Beyond imparting mere professional competence, universities need to fulfil their obligations in the cultural-educational field of a nation, region or continent: that’s why Europe needs universities and the Chinese need universities. There is an enormous need in a united Europe for people who can think and act European, and (perhaps more importantly) emotionally feel they are Europeans.