On May 6th the CEU Higher Education Research Group and GRSPSociety organized a panel discussion entitled “The Role of Higher Education Institutions in New Democracies”. The panel addressed the question of the role of higher education institutions in the consolidation of democracies and in enabling societal transformation by referring to several aspects among which: balancing autonomy and accountability in higher education, financing for higher education, quality of higher education, the outcome of the educational process, and the link between universities and the policy/business-environments.
The event was co-organized with GRSPSociety (www.grspsociety.org) in the context of the discussion of a new Education Law which is taking place in Romania. The outcome of the panel discussion will feed into the parliamentary debates on the law. Brief points on the new proposed law can be found on http://www.grspsociety.org/campania-comment
The speakers discussed the issue of democracy within universities as well as the contribution of universities to building democracy in the world. Attention was also devoted to the connection of universities with different stakeholders, and reflecting the needs of these stakeholders by the universities. The main observations were the following: in some countries—for example, as in the case of the new education law in Romania—the legal framework does not deal with the issue of the relationship between the universities and the wider public, and the state does not provide stimulus for universities to be more engaged. On the other hand, in Slovakia the law mentions the active role of universities in building democracy and civic society. However, in reality, universities are not at all active in this area. In Georgia universities are free to engage in cooperation with society, but they do not have the capacity to do so as they are not clear about how they should proceed with the new functions assigned to them. Finally, in Russia the basic functions of universities, such as autonomy are under threat and the state is re-engaging in direct management of the universities, while the intelligentsia remains silent and prefers to stay away from having problems with the government. One of the very thoroughly discussed trends was the over-reliance on international policy models by some countries (Georgia, Romania) versus absolute belief in the nationally designed policies (Russia). In the Q&A session following the panel, the topics raised by the audience included issues related to financing of universities, the “decreasing” quality of the student body and the idea of success or failure of the implementation of higher education reforms.