Prof. dr. Nicolas C. Markatos, DIC, PhD, Dr.h.c., C.Eng., F.I.Ch.E., FRSA
Department of Chemical Engineering
Former Rector
National Technical University of Athens

1. The role and influence of the “stakeholders”

Lately, much discussion is going on about the role of the Universities in the rapidly
changing, “globalized”, “knowledge-based” society. In many cases, the terminology
used could be considered irrelevant if measured in the so-called «old-fashioned»
way. First of all, to a very great extent, society “changes” rapidly because of the
rapid technological change that flows from the Universities themselves.

Terms like «client», «customer» and «services» used to be out of the cultural context
of the University, and had been considered as terminology related to business.
Things seem to have changed (have they really?) as virtually everything in life today
tends to be considered as «business». As we all know, business is about profit for
those who take the risks. How can these terms be re-defined to cover the relation
between University and Society? Who are the «clients» and what are the anticipated
«profits»? What will be the future of those who do not fulfill the clients’ demands?

Let us point out what we consider to be the most important role of the University
today as ever : the evolution of culture, the identification of real social needs and the
partial, at least, fulfillment of those needs. We insist on needs, as opposed to
desires, since the latter are dictated to Society by the market. Giving up this role
could easily lead us to a market-centered analysis of education, culture and the role
of Institutions in fulfilling Society’s real needs. However, this would imply the
recognition of the infallible, almighty Market as defined in the current financial
climate, as the driving force of History itself. Are we mature enough to accept such a
responsibility, or is the pursuit of «wealth for wealth» and «development for
development» that blinds our view of History?

Those who stand for such a new order of things, present the following «simple”
argument: Universities have to satisfy their students needs. If all that students
demand is knowledge required to find a job, then that is all that Universities should
provide. «Successful» Universities (are supposed to) have «satisfied clients», that is,
graduates who have a «good» job (or a job at all!). Culture and development of
Historic consciousness are of second priority. I might say that this is a naive line of
argument, but I will not. In fact this is a very sophisticated argument that is
supported by the current state of the job market. If we took into consideration the
undeniable fact that the market is driven rather by the pursuit of wealth than by the
desire for society’s development, we would have implicitly and sub-consciously
accepted that it is the logic of profit that determines the role of Universities, which is
of course absurd. Furthermore, is it not the Market itself ever requiring innovations
to its structure and operation? Who can implement those innovations, if not
University graduates who are able, however, to question the market’s functions ?
This is precisely why Universities must keep their distance from the market place;
that is, in order to produce graduates who are able to debate and innovate.

The University is a Social and Professional institution based on well-accepted
concepts such as institutional autonomy and freedom of teaching and research. It
cannot be governed by non-academic managers and external interests without
compromising its socially attributed self-determination.

2. Institutional autonomy and academic freedom

During the last ten years or so, the vast majority of public Universities has suffered
the harsh reality of two contradictory trends : an increase in the services expected of
Universities and a drop, in real terms, in the financial resources at their disposal.

The increase in financial pressure upon Universities is caused by both external and
internal causes. Externally, we are told that Universities cannot escape the
consequences of globalization in the world today and the heightened environment of
competition that this creates. For Universities, financial resources are harder to
obtain because competition from other activities is stiffer and costs are controlled by
both private and public bodies more rigorously. At the same time we are told by
every Government in the World that Education is today the State’s first priority !
Internally, Universities face pressure on their unit costs, sometimes because of their
mistakes, e.g. their resource management tends to be very rigid and inefficient.

Universities must, therefore, question themselves on their activities. There is no
doubt, that they must adapt better to society’s expectations, share tasks among
themselves, enhance their administrative efficiency and improve transparency in
terms of teaching and research activities. This does not mean, however, that they
have to participate or even contribute to today’s head-on, mega-competition that
leads to winner-take-all situations, because then they would compromise their role.
There is, simply, a clear need to re-structure and also to find additional source of
funding. What they certainly should not do is to compromise academic freedom and
autonomy for the sake of financial profit, for the sake of the administrators’ definition
of “efficiency”. The only profit a University must recognize is the Educational profit,
that is a sum of knowledge, culture, ethics and social issues. The problem of
University funding is beyond the field of commercial economics, and University
policy cannot be based solely on the criterion of financial efficiency. Education (and
fundamental research of course) is a “collective good” and as such it should be
offered only by public institutions freely to everyone, irrespective of financial status.
After all, the same is true for all other collective goods (e.g. Defense, Security e.t.c.).
This does not create an inequity because the differences in financial status are
reflected upon the different tax-rate scales. All that is, therefore, needed is some
administrative restructuring in order to reinforce decision-making procedures and
improve flexibility.

The Universities must defend the cause of the, extremely important, social role they
play in the transmission and acquisition of new knowledge and the critical analysis
of Society’s needs. They must demand an increased proportion of GNP to be spent
on education, showing simultaneously that they are changing in their structures, and
not in their principles, so as to fulfill their mission in a better way. They must still try
to find additional funding, either as no-strings-attached donations, or primarily by
making material, laboratory and human resources available, within the framework of
applied research and life-long learning. Training, applied research and life-long
education are private goods and as such they may be offered either by public or
private Institutions and may involve fees.

We therefore reach the following question: how can Universities retain their
autonomy and academic freedom on the one side and still be able to attract the
funding required to survive, on the other. This leads us, I suppose, to the definition
of freedom: can there be freedom without the means to exercise it? In a market4
centered context, the answer is «no»; the freedom of the individual is limited not only
by the freedom of others but also by their financial power. It seems reasonable that
those who pay can have specific demands, so that good use of their investment is
being made.

Even the above argument, that may describe the general order of things in the
market area, does not hold true for Universities. The funding of Universities is not
equivalent to financial investments. In a quite generic definition of the term
«investment», such funding can be viewed as an investment of Society to those
structures that will turn the wheel of Historical evolution. This should be the main
demand from Universities. The fulfillment of the market needs is only one of the
many facets of their role. Another facet is the contribution to the definition of
Society’s development targets. This can be easily forgotten under the pressure of
«satisfying the market’s needs», which is by no means the most important part of the
Universities’ role.

In this context, academic freedom and self-determination of Universities cannot be
compromised for any management-oriented and market-centered model of
operation. The main «investor» in the «University business» is Society itself; not the
market, not any profit-seeking agent. It is therefore only Society who is entitled to
«demand» anything from Universities and who should expect «profits» from their
activity, not in terms of direct material wealth, but in terms of evolution. University
leaders must and can define coherent institutional identities and University targets,
by a decision-making process based on the consensus of constituent departments,
staff and students.

3. New technologies and the importance of the media

Another topic that has stimulated a number of vivid discussions is that of the use of
new technologies and media in education. The rapid development of new
technologies has implications for the provision of higher education. New learning
environments have been proposed and communication of knowledge has become
possible through many new media, especially new interactive digital networks and
services. It is proposed that the instructional process can be partly or even fully
automated. There are also several cases where discussion for new pedagogical
frameworks is made. It is also often supported that the delivery of knowledge can be
made not only by traditional institutions, but also by media organizations. Before
proceeding further, it is useful to make a few definitions.

Culture is everything persons receive from their social environment, in terms of
social behaviour, ethics, customs, and values. It is not a collection of knowledge
items, but the conception of the historical evolution by the individual. This only
partially corresponds, but is not limited, to an amount of knowledge. Training is a
process for delivering knowledge. Strictly speaking, training has little to do with the
formation of person’s character and social-behaviour code, but only with their ability
to do a more or less specific job. Education is a social service that covers both
culture and training. It is usually offered by community as an organized social
process for delivering culture, ethics and values, as well as vocational training.
Education aims at reproducing the social structures and develop a consciousness
that will lead to further evolution of Society.

Therefore, the point to be made here is that, perhaps, the new media can be used
for training, but not for the delivery of culture that is and has to retain its social
character. We should not abandon the concept that the educational systems’ main
intent should be the production of active and useful citizens. It is a fact, of course,
that current educational paradigms are subject to great change, using new
technologies and media. However, what will be the social implications of replacing
classrooms with networks and other media tools? We must strongly support the
argument that technology and new media must supplement, not substitute,
traditional learning processes. The new tools and media should not redefine the
notion of pedagogy which is, and must remain, in the core of every educational
system, and involves necessarily interaction between students and teachers. This
interaction is necessary to bring people together, to counteract the isolation of
learners, to help the student to acquire the skills of managing the wealth of
information available and to develop intellectually.

Technology must be regarded as a tool to achieve goals, not as an end in itself, and
should be judged against University aims; especially in the undergraduate
classroom, where academic tuition is not only a procedure of delivering “bare”
knowledge content, but also an opportunity for discussion and development of
critical thought and of critical assessment of knowledge.

No matter what help can the new media and telecommunications networks provide,
it is still not clear whether the inspiration and living paradigm existing “in the air” in
any live tuition, can be delivered through a multimedia high-speed network.

In this context, technology is expected to support, but not substitute classroom
academic tuition, and should reduce, not increase, the gap between students and
teachers. That is why private enterprises designing educational delivery systems,
computer firms, publishers, TV and the like will never become competitors of the
University. The University must use innovative approaches to teaching, based on
the use of new technologies (computer-aided learning, self-instruction courseware,
virtual laboratories, teleteaching and videoconferencing) to help improve the quality
of both teaching and learning, without of course compromising the live classroom
and seminars debates and the student CafŽ discussions. On the other hand,
Universities should certainly use distance learning techniques for continuing and
adult education, after answering convincingly the following questions:

• How should the knowledge content be organized, structured and presented in
order to be used effectively in distance learning environments?
• How should distance learning co-exist with traditional methods of teaching?
• What subject areas are best offered for delivering through distance learning and
at what level of specialization?
• How will the certification of distance learning courses be made?
• What administrative structures are required to support distance learning
activities?

4. International relations and globalization

“Globalization” in the post-modern world does not mean more than the reign of
market forces, and it’s consequent increase in competition. The University should,
however, maintain it’s socially attributed distance from both, market and competition.
Furthermore, Universities, by their very name, have always had links and contacts
that reach well beyond their nation; and knowledge is universal. Therefore,
globalization, in admittedly another context, is already well known to the University.

The meaning of “knowledge-based” society disintegrated recently in only the notion
that continuous vocational training is necessary in a world where “production
requirements keep changing with the application of new knowledge”. We can be
rather skeptical about this notion as only a small percentage, about 12%, of the
knowledge produced annually finds its way to implementation in production.

Why, I wonder, should Universities accept the above misconceptions, invented and
promoted by administrators, and not react in the direction of restoring the proper
meaning of matters such as the above.

Many documents of the European Union’s (EU) SOCRATES programme refer to the
development of an awareness of a common European origin among the citizens of
the EU. This awareness will contribute to the creation of a community where free
movement of persons, capital and goods will be possible, despite different regional
identities. It is clear to us, that according to the EU, the lack of that awareness has
been at least partially responsible for the unsatisfactory fulfillment of the “free
movement” idea. By means of the SOCRATES programme, Universities are called
upon to contribute to the development of this awareness of a common European
origin among citizens, and thereby to undertake a very significant historical role in
the evolution of the EU.

The rapid progress of science leads to the introduction of new production processes
and the forms of labour relations change radically. As we mentioned earlier, we are
now speaking of a knowledge-based society and of a broad market that will
determine the development of new service-products in accordance with the
customer’s requirements.

Again, this concentration of attention to market requirements, and the linking of
investments with new products, while looking for common cultural fields on a
foundation that the Universities have to prepare, is for us a matter of considerable
concern. As it has been already apparent, the “European dimension” in education
for us is not so much associated with market requirements as with the evolution of
culture itself.

We believe that there can be no “European dimension” without a synthetic
acceptance of diversity in the multi-cultural, multi-lingual Europe, without a pluralistic
linguistic policy, without the development of a historic conscience among European
citizens. For us, “awareness of a common origin” does not mean oblivion of history
or leveling off of the civilisations that were developed in Europe: it means, first of all,
knowledge and critical consideration of historic truth, a recognition of the
contribution, of the role, of the historic offering and the diversity of each constituent
of culture that future historians will call “the European civilisation of the third
millennium”.

Another descriptive term frequently used with respect to the future European society
is the “society of learning”. The terms “culture”, “education”, “learning”, “vocational
training”, which refer to complementary activities in every modern society and are
provided by various types of institutions, are often confused with terms denoting the
ways in which they are performed, such as “distance learning”, “life-long education”,
“multimedia education” etc., while the notion of education, the Greek word is
“παιδεία”, is artfully avoided and all institutions offering “post-secondary” education
are placed on an even footing.

Problems of this nature are not new: however, they assume added relevance in view
of the debate concerning the redistribution of roles among institutions of tertiary
education. This redistribution is obviously associated with the distribution of labour
and the specificity of development of the economies of EU – member states.

The Universities may link the strategy of educational development at all levels with
the strategy of development of their countries and it is within this framework that
they should consider the SOCRATES programme. We believe that the “European
dimension” in education is not the goal but the means of achieving the national aims
of an equal and dignified coexistence in the cultural and financial space that will be
the Europe of tomorrow. In our opinion, it is significant that the SOCRATES
programme lays emphasis for the first time on education rather than training, which
means that the utilisation of EU resources is now being oriented towards education.

At a time when education budgets in all countries are shrinking, when the cost of
education keeps rising, when technology advances and adjustment costs for the
Universities are high, when teaching and learning methods evolve rapidly, and our
civilisation is going through a deep and multiform crisis, co-operation among
Universities is an obvious necessity. Co-operation will help to ensure economies of
scale and will enable the co-operating Universities to take advantage of the skills of
teaching-staff members of other Universities. Forming a global knowledge network
among all Universities (or rather many collaborating networks of more or less similar
institutions) seems a very good idea, provided that this development will be
designed to work the other way round from commercial “globalization”, e.g. to close
the development gap, rather than making it even deeper.

5. The abstract notion of quality

Universities are suddenly inundated with recommendations as to how to improve
Quality. Quality remains a rather abstract notion, as it means vastly different things
to different people, and the issue behind it has only come to the fore recently, as
governments reduce budgets, whilst expecting increased services for fewer
resources. Seen in this context, the real issue here has very little to do with “quality”
per se, but rather with who sets the criteria involved in its definition; and, therefore,
who controls the academic life. Thinking for a second that, from its earliest days, the
purpose of the University has been to define “quality”, to pass it over to Society and
to forward it in time, one can indeed be very suspicious for this latest rediscovery of
“quality”. In the academic context, different types of “quality” need to be examined:
that of teaching material, that of the delivery method, that of the student’s work and,
most important of all, that of the learning process. These “quality” matters have
already been traditionally examined by faculties, departments, institutes and
laboratories in the Universities and have been bread-and-butter of our academic
work. The latter is a holistic process involving teaching, research and interaction
with students and it is wrong to sub-divide the task into its simplest and often
meaningless components.

These sub-divisions (job control sheets, etc.) are relevant to Industry and Business
and to control the progress of great Technical Works but they are totally irrelevant to
the University environment, as are also the league-tables of University
classifications. The Universities are, of course, morally obliged to give account to
students for the quality of teaching they receive, to Society and State for the overall
services the latter get and for money spent. They can do so by themselves internally
(most have been traditionally doing it) and produce self-evaluation reports, freely
available for all to see, judge and comment. They could also consider establishing
an ISO-type standard for verifying the quality of education. What they should not do
is to allow non-academic consultants and “quality assurers” to infringe on academic
freedom and autonomy. We should keep out of the University all those interests
whose legitimacy does not derive simply from their potential to provide the
University with additional funding.

6. The integrative role of the University

So, what is the role of the University in the near future? What is the content of the
services Universities should provide to Society? Must Society be seen as a «client»,
in which case a «pragmatic» analysis leads us to the acceptance of the marketcentered,
client-server model? Is the «new order of things» defined by
administrators, by the new technology tools and media and by the market
orientation? Or is it really that old recipes are re-baptized with new names, that old
ideas for social control now discover new tools and invent new definitions in order to
appear more appealing and «innovative»? What is actually old, is not the conception
of University as a studium generale. It is instead the effort to determine the content
of University education not by the social needs, but by the financial interest that is
old.

Culture is neither something an educational Institution can communicate «virtually»,
nor a necessary evil on the side of market-dominated education. The multi-faceted
crisis of our era, in the consumer-centered world we have built, has its causes in the
lack of visions (political and others) for the future, in the lack of historic
consciousness. It is common knowledge that the most important role in the
resolution of this crisis is to be played by the content of culture and education: not
by the market, not by the tools and the new media, which can only play a
complementary role in education. University education should entail culture, training
and social issues. Universities serve the community and provide more than
knowledge. They identify social needs and ensure the upkeep of the human element
of moral judgment, beyond technical performance and achievement. They produce
the social forces of debate and innovation, so much needed by Society today. They
also play a role as places of socialization, as well as a role in the social integration.
Universities are characterised by the high degree of autonomy they grant their
teachers and researchers and by the democratic character of decision-making
processes, based on consensus (students being included in these processes). As a
result, questions about the quality of teaching and research and whether University
activities match the needs of Society or not, must be left to the Universities
themselves. Universities must also be left free to retain their, socially attributed,
distance from the market place, so that they are able to question it, rather than be
controlled by it.

The academic neutrality and the critical spirit Universities impart or should impart
place them among the very few social establishments that legitimately influence
Society, by setting cultural, technical, ethical and moral standards. To do so,
Universities need clearly defined targets and procedures, to alleviate the subjective
nature of social evolution.

University missions and needs are, unfortunately, poorly known, among the public at
large. Constant work to explain is thus necessary, and Universities must raise their
voice more audibly in relevant public debates. It is our hope to have contributed to
the development of such a social awareness.

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