Discussing the war in Ukraine, research and putting university values in practice

By Astrid Söderbergh Widding Vice-President, Governing Council, Magna Charta Observatory President, Stockholm University, Sweden

After two years of enforced meeting via Zoom it was a great pleasure to work with members of Governing Council in person in Bologna last month. Many members were attending their first physical meeting of the Council and as the work of the Observatory had continued throughout the pandemic there was a great deal to discuss. We used a workshop format on key issues in addition to the formal meeting.

We were concerned about the situation in Ukraine, where 87 universities have signed the Magna Charta Universitatum (MCU). It was pleasing that MCU signatory universities in other countries had responded so positively to the MCO's statement of solidarity and call for help for staff and students in Ukraine's universities. It was however of concern that the Rectors of 9 of our 17 signatory universities in Russia had signed a letter in support of President Putin and the hostilities and by so doing had acted in a way that was incompatible with the pledges that were made when their universities signed the MCU. They are to be temporarily suspended from participating in MCO activities until such time as the Council is satisfied that they are able to live up to the commitments which were made when signing the MCU.

Good progress had been made with the development of the MCO's research strategy. We have adopted the theme "The responsive and responsible university" for our research, which is central to the new Magna Charta 2020, and we will shortly be advertising for a research assistant to join us to take this work forward. It is possible that this role can be undertaken by a secondment from a signatory university in a way that delivers mutual benefit to the host university and the MCO. We will be engaging with signatories and other networks and creating a bibliography of relevant research which will be available on our website which will contain a repository of relevant papers in different languages. There will be other opportunities for signatory universities to engage in our research and other work. This is an exciting development which we hope that all signatories will benefit from.

We want to engage more closely with all the universities which have signed either the original Magna Charta or the 2020 version. We are developing our website and communications strategy to be more interactive and we hope that more universities will share their stories of how they live in accordance with their values. More information will follow about this as we make changes to our website.

I was very pleased that the Living Values project is to be continued and a third group of universities is to be supported in adopting the methodology. For Stockholm University, it was very helpful to be one of the first pilot universities for this project, especially as we at the time were developing new strategies with questions of values at heart.

We had candidates of very good quality apply to become MCO ambassadors and were pleased to agree that six of them be appointed. The deadline for applications for universities to join the project has not yet closed and I look forward to hosting the next workshop for Ambassadors and universities using the Living Values project at Stockholm University in June.

In the context of the complex challenges that we face as universities today, I am acutely aware of the importance of putting our values into practice, and of universities globally having a reliable social contract with civil society. In my new role as Vice-President, I look forward to the MCO gathering more insight into how this can be done effectively for the benefit of both universities and the different societies which they serve.

Published on 22 April 2022