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Strategic Plan



1. This document presents the Magna Charta Observatory’s strategy for 2015 – 2020
It sets out:

  • What the Observatory is for
  • Why it is needed
  • What it does
  • The challenges now facing the Observatory in delivering its mission
  • What the Observatory plans to achieve and
  • How it plans to achieve it.



2. The Magna Charta Observatory (MCO) exists to be the guardian for fundamental university values and to assist universities and higher education systems to operate effectively in accordance with them. It does this for the benefit of students, staff, society and universities themselves.   Over 800 universities from 85 countries have signed its statement of fundamental values since 1988.    

3. The Observatory gathers information, expresses opinions and prepares documents relating to the respect for, and protection of, the fundamental university values and rights laid down in its statement of fundamental values - the Magna Charta Universitatum (

4. It was founded by the University of Bologna and the European University Association. It is a non-profit organisation and is based in Bologna. It works with other national, European or international organisations pursuing similar or compatible aims.



5. Universities across the globe are coming under greater pressure from a variety of sources for different reasons. Economic and political circumstances can lead to pressure for the fundamental values of academic freedom and institutional autonomy to be compromised in a way which is not sustainable for the long term health of the of universities nor of long term benefit to their societies as broadly defined. Universities have served their societies well, some for over 900 years, and adherence to their fundamental values has been a significant reason for this.

6. Some countries are becoming more aware of the significance of fundamental values for the development of their higher education systems and universities and are calling on the support of the Observatory.



7. In the former circumstances, the Observatory writes to Presidents and Ministers or makes monitoring visits which have resulted in reports which provide evidence on which action can be taken. In the latter, it organises seminars and workshops which raise awareness of the importance of fundamental values and stimulate action to incorporate them more effectively into the operation of universities and national systems.

8. The Observatory fulfils its mission generally through its website, social media, publications, the organisation of conferences, seminars and workshops, undertaking monitoring, partnerships with kindred bodies and through addressing conferences organised by other bodies.

9. Signing ceremonies at which universities make a public commitment to fundamental values link the present with the root of the fundamental values and celebrate success.

10. The Observatory is governed by a Council of 15 members and has a small secretariat based at the University of Bologna. Members of Council actively engage in the activities of the Observatory. It is funded through a grant from the Italian government and voluntary donations.



11. The fundamental values set out in the Magna Charta Universitatum remain vital but require evaluation and need to be communicated in a modern way for a more diverse range of universities. Developments in the role of the ‘State’ and the ‘entrepreneurial market economy’ raise a different set of issues.

12. ‘Autonomy’ is a journey undertaken over a period of time rather than a destination at a single point in time. Its implementation and context are different in different cultures, countries and institutions. While founded and located in Europe, increasing globalisation makes it imperative that the Observatory develops a more global perspective.

13. Countries and institutions wishing to develop their higher education systems seek external assistance and support from the Observatory. Making those services better known and engaging with institutions and countries at the most appropriate level remains is both a challenge and a significant opportunity.

14. Greater and more broadly experienced capacity is required to deliver these services. This can be achieved through a wider range of inputs from different areas of the world and by using modern technology to greater effect to produce outputs and resources which will have greater impact.



15. By 2020 the Observatory plans to be the leading global organisation in support of fundamental values for higher education. This will be evidenced through the achievement of: 
a.     1000 or more signatories of the Universitatum 
b.     An annual conference and 3 workshops each year in different regions of the world, particularly in situations where there is a will to promote fundamental values 
c.     Participation in a further 4 significant international conferences (or similar)
d.     A vibrant website that is regarded as the leading international resource on fundamental university values
e.     Publications on specific aspects of the fundamental principles and the means of adhering to them
f.       A supporting group of 25 ‘ambassadors’ in addition to Council Members who contribute to achieving the Observatory’s objectives
g.     A sound financial base



16. Strengthening existing and developing new partnerships with its signatories, other institutions and national and global bodies which uphold the same values to achieve global reach and impact.

17. Organising activities. Associating with prestigious universities for hosting events, perhaps at the time they celebrate milestone anniversaries. On-going programmes with national, regional or international organisations concerned with the development of higher education and the promotion or protection of fundamental values. Possibly engaging with commercial organisations and charities for publications or particular initiatives. The shared values of the Magna Charta Universitatum will be central to any collaboration.

18. Appointing and developing a group of highly experienced professionals with international credibility and local awareness to become ‘ambassadors’. Members of the group will lead and undertake reviews, refine a protocol for engagements and provide quality assurance of the monitoring function. Its members will function as a pool of experts who can contribute also in other ways to the enrichment of the Observatory’s community.

19. Commissioning publications on the fundamental values and the extent to which they are influencing universities.

20.  Gathering, from different countries and regions and in association with kindred bodies, evidence of the operational and impact benefits, including those of a societal nature which arise from the autonomous operation of universities, and the subsequent publication of this.

21. Widening the audience for Observatory events to include also Ministries and Boards of Governors to promote the values of the Magna Charta Universitatum. Events will be action oriented, supportive of signatories or potential signatories, comparative, locally sensitive, collaborative and iterative.

22.  Reviewing the annual conference with a view to exploring local and international issues associated with implementing and the benefits of ‘living the MCO values’. Working with universities to achieve greater impact.

23.  Reviewing how students and prospective students could acquire a greater appreciation of the values in the Universitatum and how these might improve their higher education experience, and what follows it.

24.  Publication of articles and reports to add greater value to institutions and exposure for the Observatory.



25.  The Observatory is grateful for baseline funding from the Italian government. Events and activities are funded through voluntary contributions, the amount of which is growing. A financial strategy which seeks to diversify the sources of funding and ensure that, as far as possible, the activities of the Observatory at least cover their costs will be developed. Specific funding or sponsorship for projects will be sought where possible.



26.  With support from its signatories and stakeholders the Observatory is able to deliver the activities in this plan globally. It can do so in a way which reflects a deep and modern understanding of the values underpinning autonomy within higher education, communicate this extensively and engage with its signatories more effectively so that its profile and impact can be enhanced. If signatories give higher profile to the MCO and its activities in their publications and operations and the profile of autonomy, it would serve higher education well.


Adopted by the Observatory Council

4 March 2016