EUA Leadership Series: Developing pathways to achieve the vision

EUA was pleased to invite university leaders from its membership to an online discussion about the course of democracy in Europe and the potential impact on universities. The event presented different scenarios for the course of democracy and political systems across Europe. It also offered an opportunity to analyse the impact they may have on universities, their role in society and the framework conditions in which they operate.

Within these scenarios, participants were invited to exchange views and develop ideas about possible pathways for Europe’s universities and their societal engagement. It was a chance to further develop the discussion around EUA’s vision of Europe’s universities in 2030, which sees democratic backsliding as a major challenge for this decade. The workshop was the last in a series of online events for university leaders aimed at turning EUA’s vision into a reality.

Democracy and political systems are under pressure to different degrees across Europe. One aspect of this is the increasingly vocal questioning of democratic values, including freedom of expression. This threatens academic freedom and university autonomy, which are the basis for the scientific endeavour that drives societal progress. Another aspect is the erosion of the public debate through misinformation. The spread of false information, fabricated evidence and the concept of “alternative truth” undermine the value of evidence and the role of science in society. The pandemic is further exacerbating societal discrepancies and rendering open public debates more difficult.

These developments also have an effect on the role of universities in society, leading institutions to search for new and more effective ways to help counter these trends.

Designed as a thought experiment, this online workshop brought about new ideas and practical examples to inspire universities in their strategic development. The outcomes will feed into a publication outlining scenarios and possible pathways for universities to achieve their vision, taking into account the diversity of profiles and local contexts across Europe.

08.45-09.00  Participants log-in via Zoom

09.00-09.15  Welcome and introduction by EUA

09.15-10.00  The nature of democratic backsliding in Europe

  • Short presentation by Anna Lührmann, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Q&A and discussion: What does this mean for universities?

10.00-10.15  Explanation of scenario approach and methodology for group discussion

10.15-11.15  Break-out session with group discussions on the impact of the course of democracy on Europe’s universities, their role in society and the framework conditions in which they operate, as well as possible pathways for the future

11.15-11.30  Virtual coffee break

11.30-12.15  The future of European democracy and the role of civil society

  • Short presentation by Petros Fassoulas, Secretary General, European Movement International
  • Q&A and discussion: What does this mean for universities?

12.15-12.45  Reports from group discussions

12.45-13.00  Wrap-up and final discussion

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