“Nowadays, the very noble city of the Venetians is the only home of liberty, peace and justice, the only refuge of the good people, the only harbour where the ships of those willing to live well and safely arrive”, wrote Petrarch in a letter dated 1364, at the dawn of European Renaissance. In our times, the “Serenissima” has turned into the destination mainly of tourists, not necessarily looking for the same things as their predecessors.
I am lucky to be in Venice, but not as a tourist this time though. This morning, on my way to San Giorgio Island, I looked like an oddball in my suit surrounded by hundreds of early morning tourists. I am attending the 2nd Workshop on the Process of Reform of University Systems, organised by AIESM, an extremely interesting conference gathering academics who research on university issues. It was a splendid opportunity to learn more about the views of academics and university officers on the Bologna Accord. Naturally, the venue was very seductive too and I would like to thank Professor Carmelo Mazza for his kind invitation.
I was honoured to speak at the opening panel of the conference, on the future of higher education in Europe, moderated by Anthony Hopwood, Dean of the Said Business School, and having Mr. Umberto Paolucci, Senior Chairman of Microsoft Europe, as co-panellist. My presentation focused on the analysis of two following main propositions. First, the management education industry is changing in terms of its business model, not just in terms of cycle or phase. Second, the implementation of the Bologna Process requires, more fundamentally than the harmonisation of higher education systems, comparable information and transparency of university offerings and the creation of financial schemes to foster cross-border mobility of students. You are probably familiarised with these propositions since I have dealt with them earlier in this blog (see Categories section on the left of this blog in "Bologna Process").
My presentation provoked some criticisms at the Q&A turn, the part of conferences that I enjoy most. In sum, my ideas were seen by some attendees to be too liberal, too market-oriented to be applicable to universities. I replied that universities, and business schools, should feel committed to many different stakeholders, not only academia, including their students, business, society, benefactors and many other incumbent agents. In fact, the Bologna Process is about opening up universities to the world and making them more competitive, isn’t it? The idea of universities competing among themselves –for the good- sometimes raises suspicions among academics –few, I hope- who believe that the academic status quo should be preserved and that non-competitive universities are an endangered species that should be protected. I am afraid I do not agree with this. The fact is that universities have not competed for seven hundred years and many academics fear rivalry to attract the best students and professors, capital and other resources.
I was also asked to express my view on what is “the” function of universities. I believe that this question should be reformulated unless we want to embark in a metaphysical debate. There is a wide typology of universities. Should we formulate the same strategic mission or function for universities as different as the Open University or the University of Oxford? There is no panacea when discussing the function of universities. Indeed, it is desirable that the Bologna Process promotes the autonomy and the diversity of educational institutions.