Brussels, 02 Jun 2003
The Academia Europea has called into question the feasibility of the 'laudable and ambitious' goals of the Commission's recent communication on the role of universities in the 'Europe of Knowledge'.
According to a statement issued on 30 May, fulfilling these goals is unlikely given the many diverse and over-burdening pressures that modern universities are now facing. The statement also disagrees with the communication's conclusions, claiming that they wrongly lead people to believe that 'European universities have not adapted and evolved in terms of achieving a new role and place in society.'
In terms of the varying priority given to basic and applied research, the statement notes that if the Commission's aim of achieving a 'knowledge society' is to be taken seriously, much greater care has to be taken to engineer a real and sustainable balance between the diverse goals and functions of universities.
'We see an urgent need to ensure that there is a clear and acceptable balance [...] between the demands for basic research versus visible service to economy and society.'
The statement also outlines its concerns about the absence of 'non-utilitarian' research from key policy documents at all levels, reminding policymakers, that 'students cannot just be trained to be specialised and 'employable' in their limited field.'
In light of these concerns, the statement urges policymakers to ensure that the capacity to carry out and facilitate 'knowledge generation' in the broadest sense is not seen in policy terms as the domain of only a few disciplines. 'Further emphasis has to be placed on the understanding of various disciplines and on an exposure to confrontation with social responsibilities and those ethical issues that are likely to play a role in the post-education life of graduates,' it adds.
To facilitate the process, the statement calls on the European Commission to establish a systematic process for strategic consultations between stakeholder groups and academics. Such consultations would help 'develop joint European-country priorities and packages of support, applicable both to mobility and co-operation within Europe and aid the delivery of a first-class university system,' claims the statement.
Other recommendations made by the Academia Europea include increased cooperation between national authorities, the European Commission, academic bodies and universities with a view to protecting and serving excellence, as well as responding to social and economic demands. The statement also calls for the strengthening of institutional management and a more consistent system of quality assessment to ensure the strategic capacity of universities.