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Patterns of university governance in the future EHEA

seminar co-sponsored by the University of Novi Sad, the Council of Europe, CEPES, EUA, the Magna Charta Observatory and others, Novi Sad - Serbia, October 2005

Background

Over the last few years, Serbia has gone through a situation of 'stop and go' as far as the organisation of higher education is concerned. The Magna Charta has been one of the reference documents in the drafting of the new university law and the Observatory sent a delegation in 2002 to Novi Sad (Ken Edwards, Michael Daxner and the Observatory Secretary General) - where university leaders from all over the country met to discuss the importance of autonomy and of institutional identity - above and beyond the traditional fragmentation into independent faculties that prevailed in the republics of former Yugoslavia. Later, all the universities of Serbia have been assessed by the EUA quality programme and suggestions have been made to streamline higher education in the country - suggestions that were presented to the then Prime Minister, Mr Djinjic, who was murdered a few weeks later. Since then, after various changes of government and several amendments, the new law (prepared with the support of the Council of Europe under the aegis of Prof. Srbijanka Turaljic, the Vice-Minister for Higher Education in the Djinjic government) has been approved by Parliament and was to be implemented from 2005 onward. It took account of the Bologna process but retained good part of old institutional structures, such as rather autonomous faculties. The Rector of Novi Sad - who signed the Magna Charta in 2003 - Prof. Fuada Stankovic, an economist with strong international contacts has been one of the motors of change in the area. As former Rector, she is very much interested in the development of institutional governance and has been promoting the idea of a conference that would set the Serbian situation in its wider context - in the Balkans as well as in Europe as a whole. Her successor, Prof. Radmila Marinkovic-Neducin invited Prof. Ladislav Novak, from the University of Novi Sad, to take up the organisation of a conference on Emerging models of independence, an urgent problem for Serbian universities that are asking for more responsibilities in the shaping of their future and for less interventions from public authorities whose changing political aims jeopardise the stability and continuity of higher education as a system.

 

The conference

Placing the meeting under the sponsorship of several European governmental and non-governmental organisations, the Magna Charta Observatory included, the University of Novi Sad invited 40 participants - representatives of these international bodies and the Bologna process follow-up group, on one side, and experts offering examples of governance structures tested in various European States, on the other. Thus, the Irish Higher Education Authority, the English and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Councils, FINHEEC (the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council), the Swedish Chancellor's Office or YOK (the Turkish Council of Higher Education) were represented by key actors who contributed on the buffer role their organisations could play to reinforce the universities capacity to develop long term strategies and institutional continuity. Strengthening autonomy was also discussed with several secretaries of Rectors' conferences or university collectives in Finland, Germany, Norway or Sweden while the examples of foundation universities in Sweden (Chalmers) or in Turkey (Bilkent and others) were used as case studies for new social partnerships. Several other universities of Serbia (private or public) were also presented - usually by their rectors; one other focus for discussions was the regional dimension of university collective development, in the Balkans in particular; the former Minister of Education of Slovenia, Pavel Zgaga, also one of the signatories of the Bologna Declaration, facilitated that part of the meeting. Such a high level group of experienced actors and experts did allow for dense discussions - after a formal opening at the Parliament of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, in presence of the young and active President of the region and of a few of his Ministers - Education in particular. The first day was dedicated to theoretical approaches mainly - on the basis of general papers (by Georg Winckler, President of EUA, in particular, who indicated his deep interest in the region both as President of EUA and as Rector of the University of Vienna, at a time when the Austrian EU Presidency during the first half of 2006 will underline the importance of South East Europe for the development of the European Union as such). The Magna Charta presented a contribution on collective autonomy (faire le link avec le papier d'Andris ci-joint). The second day dwelt on case studies. After a group of sponsors filtered the group discussions and reports, a three page summary of the conclusions was submitted to participants; it was later presented to the Bologna Follow-up group for transmission to its members and for posting on the official website of the process - run at present from London.

From the debate, it became obvious that higher education institutions and their owners (be they national states or private supporters) need to move away from the simple exchange of good governance practices - the usual benchmarking efforts that characterise most of the international initiatives linked at present to the Bologna process. Indeed, such activities are all framed for the moment in national contexts while the European Higher Education Area needs to 'think' in European terms, by definition. The best practice in one country - for example Finland - cannot be simply replicated in other parts of Europe. All partners - public authorities or institutions and their private stakeholders - are entering an un-chartered domain, the EHEA, where innovative governance structures will need to be imagined for institutions acting beyond their usual national references; buffer organisations exist in different shapes in various countries: do the needs for cooperation and integration at the European level require new forms of mediating bodies (if so, with which type of members, functions and responsibilities)? Collective autonomy - i.e., lobbying organisations that defend the re-positioning of higher education institutions in society - exists in most countries and, in a way, the European University Association is an outgrowth of such a convergence process at continental level: does the European scope now to be developed by institutions in the EHEA justify new forms of collective autonomy (if so, which ones?).

The wealth of papers, discussions and points of view is to be reflected in the Summer 2006 of Higher Education in Europe, CEPES having offered to publish the highlights of the conference.

 

Conclusions

Considering the long term scope of such a debate - the EHEA after 2010 - but also the urgency of discussions on the new forms of governance that need to be imagined, tested and validated in some four years to allow for the setting up of a single educational space first in the European Union, secondly in its wider extension (the 45 countries that have now signed the 1999 Bologna Declaration) - the participants of the Novi Sad conference proposed to consider the meeting as the first part of what could be called the Novi Sad Initiative, i.e., a call for inventing the governance structures - at institutional and system levels (national and European) - that will make the EHEA a reality. What should be the European status of universities, of the staff and students that make them true partners of the cultural and socio-economic development of the continent as a whole? How to merge these actors - and their stakeholders - into a web of convergence that will result in an open and trusting intellectual community in the European society of knowledge called for by the EU Lisbon objectives?

In terms of the Observatory, how can the principles of Bologna I - the 1988 Magna Charta and its ensuing institutional rights - be re-introduced into the Bologna II discussions (the use of the kit of convergence tools outlined in the 1999 Declaration) at the occasion of the discussions of what the EHEA should be and how to govern it if is to be achieved the free flow of ideas, projects and people (students and staff) that already exists in many sectors of the EU (free flow of goods, of capital, of labour, for instance)?

The Novi Sad Initiative asks for other partners to pick up the challenge of re-inventing the forms of management shaping the intellectual future of the continent and offers - as proceedings of a stimulating encounter - the first element of discussions characterised by a European scope as to institutional governance. In other words, the Bologna process offers a unique platform for the innovative re-appraisal of management structures grounded in the experience of the national past but open to the unexpected of our European future.

 

See final report on the Novi Sad Initiative