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2002 - XIV Anniversary

University Autonomy and Human Resources

University of Bologna Rectorate
Via Zamboni 33

17 September 2002




The next few years will witness a fundamental renewal of personnel in institutions of higher education as the generation of staff that entered universities in the 60ies, a time of great expansion, will be retiring. This is an opportunity to reconsider the profile, role and identity of universities as centres of learning, research and education at the heart of social and intellectual development in Europe. Change will also put at risk embedded assumptions and routines as to the place of higher education and innovation in local, regional and national communities, i.e., the capacity of institutions to account for the services rendered in a society whose references and ambitions are also transforming quickly. The constraints and conditions of development are moving so fast that the concept of autonomy, its coverage and extension in universities could require new definitions to meet new challenges. The purpose of this seminar was to contribute to such a redefinition.

With the expected renewal of the profession, are the universities going to be staffed by a new professional class of teachers and researchers, equipped with a new ethical code in order to cope with the transformed role of universities in higher education and innovation? In a world of increased " virtual learning ", is teaching still a public service - that would justify the civil servant status prevailing in many countries of Europe - or has education become an open market inducing different loyalties ? Can scientific creativity be encouraged by " exchanging " staff with external partners, industry in particular, at a time when skills and competences have become the key words in academic human resource management rather science development ? What are the pressures existing today on the institution and how can it take them into account? What does it imply for the individual professor in terms of the selection of research topics or of teaching commitments? How does the institution protect or steer the choices of academic activities made by members of the university? What does it all mean in terms of contracts or staff development? Do other protection devices apart from tenure exist to ensure academic creativity? Do private contracts represent an opportunity for the university to adapt to change? What is employment security and how can it be redefined for a world in constant reorganisation?

The seminar, with the support of key partners in society, did help the Observatory to formulate the common elements of an accepted balance between flexibility for innovation and the security provided by permanent appointments, re-qualification, staff development or various forms of contract policy. It had been documented by a study comparing the recent legal and administrative changes in human resource management at universities in eight European countries, a paper that has been commissioned from Prof. Ulrike Felt, from the Institute for the Sociology of Science at the University of Vienna. This is also the core of the booklet entitled Managing University Autonomy that reflects the debate of the session. The format of the meeting was a structured conversation to which all 25 to 30 participants had been invited to contribute freely, Ms Bernadette Conraths, former director of the European Foundation for Management Development, acting as a facilitator of the one day encounter.


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