Put it in writ­ing

CEU of­fi­cial calls for uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy to be ‘cod­i­fied’ by EU

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Si­mon.baker@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The cri­sis in­volv­ing Hun­gary’s Cen­tral Euro­pean Uni­ver­sity has high­lighted the need for uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy and aca­demic free­dom to be bet­ter pro­tected at a Euro­pean level, a con­fer­ence has heard.

Liviu Matei, provost and prorec­tor at the CEU, told the event on uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy that al­though the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was tak­ing the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment to court over the case, ques­tions had been raised about whether EU laws and di­rec­tives of­fered pro­tec­tion for higher ed­u­ca­tion in such a mat­ter.

The CEU’s future has been in doubt ever since the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment brought in new laws plac­ing a range of re­stric­tions on over­seas uni­ver­si­ties op­er­at­ing in the coun­try. It sparked a wave of protests as the move was seen as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt by the au­thor­i­ties to close the CEU.

Speak­ing at the “Uni­ver­sity Au­ton­omy in Eu­rope” event, held at the Uni­ver­sity of Le­ices­ter on 23 and 24 April, or­gan­ised by the Euro­pean Uni­ver­sity As­so­ci­a­tion and Uni­ver­si­ties UK, Pro­fes­sor Matei said that al­though there was a “con­sen­sus” across the con­ti­nent on the im­por­tance of uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy, there was a need for some­thing “an­chored, not on a par­tic­u­lar con­sen­sus at a par­tic­u­lar time, but on le­gal con­cepts, rights, val­ues”.

He re­ferred to the Com­mis­sion’s Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice case

against Hun­gary, which is partly based on claims that the law brought in by the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment im­pinges on aca­demic free­dom.

But Pro­fes­sor Matei para­phrased Hun­gary’s re­sponse as be­ing: “‘What are you talking about? There is no Euro­pean doc­u­ment talking about this, no Euro­pean law or di­rec­tive talking about aca­demic free­dom and be­sides the reg­u­la­tion of HE be­longs to na­tional au­thor­i­ties so why are we even dis­cussing this?”

How­ever, he added that the “di­rect en­gage­ment” with the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment by the Com­mis­sion and other EU in­sti­tu­tions such as the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment was one of the key rea­sons why the au­thor­i­ties in Hun­gary had rowed back and granted an ex­tra year to com­ply with the new law.

This was dif­fer­ent to the sit­u­a­tion in Turkey, an­other coun­try where Pro­fes­sor Matei said uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy and aca­demic free­dom had come un­der at­tack, where the EU had no lever­age.

Pro­fes­sor Matei said that some kind of of­fi­cial “cod­i­fi­ca­tion” of uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy was now vi­tal given that it was un­der threat across Eu­rope, and not just in the east, be­cause of the rise of pop­ulism and other fac­tors.

“Is uni­ver­sity au­ton­omy un­der threat in Eu­rope? My an­swer is yes. I know be­cause I am liv­ing it, I come from a place where…what we are deal­ing with is an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis,” he said.

Other speak­ers at the con­fer­ence in­cluded Nick Hill­man, di­rec­tor of the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, who said that in the case of the UK there was a ten­dency “to pre­tend that uni­ver­si­ties were once au­ton­o­mous but that this au­ton­omy has been grad­u­ally whit­tled away”, which he said was a “dan­ger­ous ar­gu­ment”.

Among other things this was be­cause it was a “mis­read­ing of his­tory” and as­sess­ments such as the EUA’s Au­ton­omy Score­card showed that the UK cur­rently had one of the most in­de­pen­dent sys­tems in Eu­rope.

“I have vis­ited [the] Na­tional Ar­chives to see how pol­icy was made half a cen­tury ago. Civil ser­vants at the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and Science spent their time ob­sess­ing over the size of the Uni­ver­sity of Birm­ing­ham’s re­fec­tory and whether Keele Uni­ver­sity should be al­lowed a new run­ning track,” he said.

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