The future of the university

Vienna, 30 November - 2 December 2005


Europe is facing massive challenges. Many of its economies are showing signs of weakness at a time when old competitors keep going strong and new ones, particularly in Asia, are gaining ground. Europe’s population is greying, with heavy implications for the costs of health and pension systems. In order to defend its position in the world, and its high standard of living, it needs to be smarter and more innovative than others. It needs better products than those it competes with, and it must produce them faster. It is doomed to create an ever-improving knowledge society.

Obviously, the success of the creation of a knowledge society critically hinges on the performance of our education and training systems, and particularly its universities and other higher education institutions. Europe’s heads of state and government acknowledged this when adopting, in the year 2000, the ‘Lisbon Agenda’, in which education, training and research play a key role. But, in order to be the innovation motor they should be, Europe’s universities will themselves need to innovate and change. Reforms have begun in many countries, but more are necessary.

The conference tackled the reform needs of European universities by focusing on three central issues. These were

  • Funding. Where shall the resources come from which the university needs? Will the state, as the main paymaster of today’s universities, be able to shoulder the substantial bill, or will private money be needed on a much larger scale than today?
  • Governance and Autonomy. Who shall govern and manage the university of the future, and in which way exactly? Are our higher education institutions too regulated to properly fulfill their mission as knowledge motors?
  • Environment. The university’s success will also be dependent on its interaction with ‘environmental’ factors of various sorts, which are a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. The conference is going to focus on three such factors: cities and regions, demography and global university competition over the best knowledge-workers.  

The Future of the university featured high-level speakers from Europe, but also from other continents. Among them were Peter Scott, the President of ACA; Angelique Verli, European Commission; Philip Altbach, Boston College; Georg Winckler, the President of EUA; and Sohail Inayatullah, Tamkang University. Its 250 European and international participants were be decision-makers from higher education and the world of politics.