Interview with Renaud Dehousse

We talk with the new president of the European University Institute about the politicisation of British universities, being a European citizen (whether you like it or not) and having no regrets

December 8, 2016
Renaud Dehousse, European University Institute (EUI), Sciences Po, Paris

Renaud Dehousse holds the Jean Monnet chair of EU law and European political studies at Sciences Po, Paris. He has lectured at the University of Pisa, the University of Michigan and the University of Florence, and was recently appointed president of the European University Institute (EUI).

Where and when were you born?
Liège, Belgium, in 1960.

How has this shaped you?
Something you learn in Belgium is that you’re in a community with very different people, and it’s important to respect the different components of that community. That also explains the necessity to compromise; even when you have strong principles it’s important to accept that not everybody wants the same thing. That’s a substantial part of my identity.

What do you want to achieve in your role as president of the EUI?
I can identify a number of important contributions, such as providing training to people who become tomorrow’s academics all around Europe, and not necessarily in their own country, because we are European citizens whether we like it or not. 

What were your personal feelings when the UK voted to leave the European Union?
The main feeling was one of great sadness because I don’t think anybody will benefit from the UK leaving the EU, although I recognise that not everybody agrees. There was also a sense of shock, not because I was surprised but from the feeling that politicians could take such huge risks for their country based on partisan calculations. Because of the situation that all European countries are in – with a growing discontent first, and then a growing distress with the European situation – if you organise a referendum, the likelihood that you will have a strong protest vote is great.

Do you think the UK’s global higher education position will be detrimentally affected, if it hasn’t been already?
Well, I don’t have any privileged information. But I think there is room for two scenarios: one is a scenario in which we decide that everybody has a clear interest in ensuring continuity; for instance, EU higher education institutions have exchanges that are very fruitful with non-EU members such as Norway, Switzerland, Israel and others. So even if the UK is to leave, why should it leave those programmes? We heard the [British] prime minister say that Britain was leaving the EU, not Europe, well…I hope the EUI belongs to the second part of that statement. But there is also a danger. There is a growing politicisation of British universities, and an emphasis on openness and free movement of students as would-be illegal immigration. This may ultimately lead us where none of us wants to go, and that would be very saddening. Yet I cannot exclude that possibility.

If you weren’t an academic what do you think you’d be doing?
I could see myself doing so many different things, such as painting. But for me, an academic career was not a second-best option. You could say I was born into a family with a strong academic component; that probably explains why I developed an interest for that kind of job.

What do you think has changed most in global higher education?
The fact that people do not simply expect to receive a kind of intellectual opening from higher education institutions, they also want to have access to the job market. On the one hand it means that higher education institutions must deliver that kind of service, which is a new challenge for them. At the same time, there is a serious risk that they may lose their soul in that endeavour. You must help your "users" to get the best possible jobs, but this should not come at the price of intellectual training. I would not have fundamental education on the one hand and vocational education on the other. The two should go hand in hand.

What keeps you awake at night?
Well, not every night, but the rather discomforting situation in Europe. For someone like me who has an investment in the construction of Europe in various ways, it is a source of great worries indeed.

What’s your most memorable moment at university?
A really memorable moment was the collapse of the Iron Curtain, because I grew up in a world in which the situation appeared impossible to change. There was this radical divide of the European continent, and then it was gone. There was the possibility of getting students, young colleagues from Eastern European countries – which felt completely out of our reach – and the connections became possible almost overnight. Once contacts were made with those countries, you started seeing an inflow of young scholars from these countries and all of a sudden all the things we’d dreamed of became possible and it’s not very often that you’re exposed to that kind of radical change.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Think critically. It’s not the case that higher education always encourages people to think critically. In continental Europe, there has been a tradition of lecturing that could give the impression that there’s but one way of doing things, and we know that is not the case.

What is your biggest regret?
I have no big regrets. I was lucky in that on a number of occasions I was given opportunities I did not really expect; therefore I should have no regrets.


Jonathan Holloway has been announced as the new provost of Northwestern University and will take up the position in July 2017. He is a professor of post-emancipation African American history at Yale University, and has written books on African American social and intellectual history. He is currently dean of Yale College, having held the role since 2014, and has held positions as head of Calhoun College, chair of the Council of Heads of College, director of undergraduate studies and chair of the department of African American studies. During his time as dean, he was praised for his calm leadership after a spate of racially motivated incidents on campus.

Liz Hutchinson will take on the role of communications director of the British Academy. She has held roles heading the press offices of various government agencies, and will move on from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she is director of communications and public affairs, and a member of the senior leadership team for professional services. While at Goldsmiths, she has campaigned to increase student intake from the UK and abroad, promoted its research, and developed a new website and public engagement programme. “I’m delighted to be joining the British Academy at this critical time for the humanities and social sciences, and for academia more broadly,” she said. She will take up the role in January 2017.

Elizabeth Opara will become head of the department of applied and human sciences at Kingston University. She is currently associate professor in the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing. John Finch has become the new head of the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow. He has been professor of marketing at the school since 2012. Antony Morgan has been appointed dean of Glasgow Caledonian University’s London campus. He joined the university in 2012, and has been interim dean of the campus since January 2016. He was previously programme leader for the MSc public health programme.


Print headline: HE & me

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