Welcome by the organisers
CEO, Körber Foundation
President, German Rectors’ Conference
»University – society interactions« – Introduction by the chair of Council
President, Observatory Magna Charta Universitatum
The overall theme of this year’s Council meeting is to contribute to the future of sound university – society interactions. Only decades ago universities characterized university – society engagement as ‘outreach’, or even as ‘third strand’ activities, until it was realised that this engagement can neither be a one-way stream nor disengaged from research and teaching. For the engagement agenda to succeed, as an academic activity enjoying parity of esteem with research and teaching, there is a question that cannot be avoided: To what extent is the university’s engagement with society conducted on the university’s own terms, and to what extent does the university actually respond to societal needs and demands? At the end of the day we will be discussing how the development of a truly responsive engagement agenda impacts on the way universities organise and present themselves to the society they are serving. No doubt communications 2.0 will need to go beyond traditional public relations and transfer activities.
Plenary presentation and discussion
Specially for this year’s Council meeting a research study on key trends on the place of universities in society has been undertaken. This piece of work by a team of researchers of higher education will be discussed in the first plenary session of the day.
Research study »The place of universities in society« – What are key national and institutional trends and developments?
University of Oslo, Norway
Plenary introduction of Council members work sessions by the chair
The GUC Hamburg is designed to be an opportunity for invited university leaders from around the world to engage in serious conversations among themselves on key issues for university leadership today. This is valuable and attractive for at least three good reasons: many issues are omnipresent, i. e. not confined to local or national locations, exchanging experiences and sharing insights is crucial for responsible leaders themselves and making a joint public statement may have positive impact by itself.
The main direction of the discussions should be towards analysis and future challenges rather than description of present and past performance. To facilitate this kind of approach a number of clusters of subthemes and relevant questions have been designed. They will serve as agenda and incentives to each of five parallel break-out work sessions.
|Group photo and lunch break
Two consecutive rounds of five parallel break-out work sessions
for Council members
Round 1: 1:15 – 2:15 pm / Round 2: 2:30 - 3:30 pm
Council members as experienced academic leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds will engage in in-depth discussions of various aspects of the overall theme. It is to be expected that by sharing our insights and knowhow and in jointly analysing the main challenges at hand Council will be able to make valuable recommendations, directed to universities as well as to societies.
Group work session 1:
The dynamics of university–society relations
Chair: Petra Wend, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen Margaret
For a university engagement with society is simply not optional. It is essential, seen from the perspective of the university. For a university serving society is one of the crucial raisons d’être. Seen from the other side it used to be the same. In many countries, however, there are clear and present signals of a changing attitude. The rise of in-company training, the impact of the digital mode, the growing market share of forprofit providers, the commodification of education, a decreasing trust in scholarship – these are all factors that contribute to the erosion of the traditionally high respect for universities in society and of the selfevident value of certification by university degrees.
How should universities respond to these changes? Are there other, similar shifts? Like the changing appreciation for humanities and social sciences in some countries? We might also ask what the core value (or unique selling point) of the traditional university is, or rather should be. It could lead to a clearer positioning of the university mission and of what a university can contribute to society. It could also help to better differentiate between the role of this type of university and other (private, commercial) providers of higher education.
Group work session 2:
Society? Which society?
Chair: Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor Emeritus, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
This session focuses on a kind of reconnaissance exercise about society. If we speak about society what do we exactly have in mind? The background of this question is that societies are neither unified nor uniform. Different strands of society are quite different in their relation to universities – in terms of access to higher education as well as to research programmes and results, and of the benefits gained from them. Society is also marked by inequalities (between various groups as well as between individuals) and by deep varieties of agency and ownership (some groups issue powerful claims, others have weak voices). Last, but not least there is the important factor of location and geography (urban vs rural, national vs global).
This reconnaissance exercise certainly deserves our serious attention. Its goal is to have an updated mapping of modern society as a whole – by itself and in its relevance for university–society engagement. Universities should avoid being seen as representing social elites mainly serving elites. At the same time, this exercise poses the question how much of present funding and ranking arrangements truly promote a balanced engagement with society and support diversity of missions and programmes.
Group work session 3:
The university’s value propos
Chair: Suzanne Ortega, President, Council of Graduate Schools, USA
Universities are – generally speaking – rather conservative institutions. The ways in which we as universities do things and organise ourselves represent long and shared traditions more often than individual innovations. How we teach, how we test, how we define and protect our disciplinary identities – such matters determine our activities as well as the services we have on offer.
This session is devoted to the question whether what universities usually have on offer is fit for purpose (to serve society well, in its manifold forms and manifestations). This is in a way the mirror image of session two. Here we will do reconnaissance work about our ‘products’ and ‘impact’ of the university on society.
This is of course about students and graduates (they are the most important bridges between university and society anyway) as well as about research output. So, labour markets are a central theme here, including the dilemma between short-term relevant skill sets and long-term value for lifelong graduate careers. Likewise, the very similar dilemma between application-driven, usable research results and long-term scientific capacity building will be addressed.
The goal of this session is to update our understanding of the value propositions of universities for society. A crucialcomplication will be how to introduce examples of diverse professional and scholarly sectors. Additionally, the pressing need for interdisciplinary skills and knowledge to respond to the complexities of almost all major challenges needs to be addressed. Are universities ready to engage in this? Are we ready to review and remake our traditional modes of operation to better engage with society? And if not, what is detaining us? At the same time traditional modes of communication and transfer should be redesigned. Collaborating responsive-style requires more than good public relations or transfer activities.
Group work session 4:
Partnerships and networks
Chair: Ennio Vivaldi V., President, University of Chile, Chile
This session is about how universities are and best could be organising their engagement with society. Which tried-and-tested formats are available and above all which partners do we as universities have (and should we have) as representatives of society in its dealings with the university?
In countries with strong public universities it is often national government and/or politics that are steering relations and programmes between university and society. Should politics-led
policies indeed be in the lead? As political lifecycles are not congruent with institutional lifecycles colliding timeframes are often an issue. So are, more in general, the dynamics of short-term oriented politics often at odds with the need for sustainable partners in the social contract underlying the mission and strategic programmes of a university. How can one avoid negative dynamics and benefit from the positive type?
Usually university – society relationships are happening in a variety of networks – be they with cities and regional authorities, corporate partners, not-for-profit or citizens advocacy and interest groups. Who is managing these existing networks? Should universities seek to rather have joint networks together with other universities (like in urban or regional networks, or networks of specialised universities of technology or medicine) instead of engaging in stand-alone collaborations? Again, a pressing question is: Who will be managing these joint networks and how can they be organised in a truly interactive way? Here, like in session 4, the development of solid two-way communication and collaboration deserves our attention.
Group work session 5:
Universities for the common good
Chair: C. Raj Kumar, Vice-Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University, India
This session is devoted to a more or less philosophical question. For many decades the concept of the public or common good was a widely accepted, evident compass for university – society relations. The concept seems to have largely lost its status.
Societies are no longer understanding themselves (or: finding a common core) in terms of shared interests and core values. All sorts of groups and communities unite on the basis of a shared group identity and social status and aspire for recognition. The commons have become a crowded space where many are jostling for attention and claiming to speak for forgotten interests or even be heard as representing ‘the people.’
Of course, colleagues in philosophy or social sciences have been following, describing and analysing these trends all along. Generally speaking, though, university leadership have not relly re-positioned themselves and their institutions in the present situation. Thus, several questions deserve serious discussion: Is there a future for the common good? Do universities mirror or share prevalent societal values and identities? Or do they enjoy room for and make use of their autonomy to define their own values and establish their own identities?
In discussing these matters, it should not be forgotten that societies worldwide are not following exactly the same pattern of social and political fragmentation or diversification. Anothercaveat would point to a variety of opinions and values among faculty and students. In most universities values are only (or mainly) being invocated and discussed in times of crisis, not as a common practice. So, working towards a shared value base might be a wise thing to do.
Plenary session moderated by the Council chair
In this session moderators of the five break-out work sessions will report back to Council. This will be done with a dual objective: to share key findings and insights among all participants, and to feed into the 2019 Hamburg Declaration.
|End of day 2
|Joint dinner at hotel