The Magna Charta Universitatum – looking back at where universities c/should be

The Magna Charta Universitatum may sound a bit Harry Potterish, but it is an actual thing.  I was directed to it from an article by Stephen Collini in The Guardian last week around university integrity.

The charter was developed in 1988 as a guide for European Universities as a blue print for the future.

It contains principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy as a guideline for good governance and self-understanding of universities in the future.

Academic freedom is the foundation for the independent search for truth and a barrier against undue intervention for both government and interest groups.

Institutional autonomy is a prerequisite for the effective and efficient operations of modern universities.

It also underlies the unique constellation of study, teaching and research, as represented by the European university for the last millennium, and must be further developed without abandoning these universal principles.

The universities now refer to this text as the standard of their belonging to an international community sharing the same academic values and purposes

As Collini highlighted it was signed by the education ministers of 29 countries. 33 UK universities including my own also signed the charter. I wonder how many current university Vice Chancellors still try to adhere to these principles or indeed, are even aware of its existence, let alone those working in Government departments responsible for Higher Education.

At the recent OER18 conference, Keith Smyth (UHI) and I presented a summary of our ongoing work and forthcoming book around the concept of the digital university.  One of the key questions we are exploring in the book, based again on work from Collini, is to try and help define an understanding of what (and who) a university is for in our digital age.  It seems to us, that currently, in the UK at least, universities and governments understandings and expectations of universities are moving further and further away from those detailed in the charter.  As Brexit looms ever closer, perhaps it’s time we all took a closer look at it.

 

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