University leaders from Europe, Canada and the US discuss the civic role of universities in a challenging context

05 July 2018

On 1-4 July about 30 university presidents from Canada, Europe and the United States convened at the European University Institute (EUI) in Fiesole, Florence, for the 15th Transatlantic Dialogue. This event addressed the timely theme “Higher education and its communities: openness, democracy and engagement”.

Participants examined the civic role of universities and debated how the contribution of higher education institutions to political and societal debates can be strengthened. Discussions centred particularly on how higher education institutions can themselves be initiators of social and cultural change and model open, democratic and engaged communities.

The opening sessions provided a much-needed opportunity to compare respective contexts and identify shared global challenges, which ranged from political instability and the rise of nationalism and populism to declining public funding for universities and a loss of focus on the public interest of higher education.

Subsequent sessions addressed the concrete impact of these large-scale trends on university activities. Discussions centred upon ways of creating open learning environments and educating active citizens, opening up research to foster transparency and trust, developing strategies for efficient university governance and responding to threats to institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Delegates agreed on the need for today’s universities to be inclusive, socially engaged and relevant institutions and to develop a relationship of trust with both internal and external communities. They particularly highlighted the crucial role and responsibility of institutional leaders to achieve this.

The Transatlantic Dialogue series is a long-standing joint initiative by EUA and its transatlantic partners Universities Canada and the American Council on Education (ACE). It brings together university leaders from both sides of the Atlantic to engage in in-depth discussions on current and shared opportunities as well as on the challenges faced by universities in advancing higher education, research and innovation. The Transatlantic Dialogue is vital to EUA’s efforts to foster exchange and cooperation with universities and university organisations in other parts of the world. The first Transatlantic Dialogue was held in 1989 in the United States.

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