“Our invitation to discuss and debate the future of the European Research Area (ERA) was timely. I herewith elaborate on the contribution of universities of Science and Technology (S&T) in Europe and beyond to shaping the future of the ERA.
Back in 2000, the European Council met in Lisbon and agreed on a narrative for our efforts to build the ERA. The narrative was clear: creating jobs and boosting economic growth and universities were considered to be pivotal for that.
And indeed, throughout their history, universities - and universities of S&T in particular - have demonstrated strong transformative force in shaping our societies in what we have been calling ‘knowledge-based economies’. Indeed, we universities of S&T have a great deal of expertise and experience in academia-industry collaboration. This narrative still is valid today and should continue to be so when shaping the future ERA.
Yet it is clear that Europe and the rest of the world have changed a lot since Lisbon 2000. Hence, the narrative focusing on job creation and economic growth should take these changes into account.
You might have seen my vision on the future of the ERA published in the magazine ‘Research Europe’. In this article, several changes to our societies since 2000 and corresponding challenges are outlined. And that is what I would like to elaborate here.
Let us have a look at the following three challenges:
To start with the ecological, economic and social challenges: we face many of them! Think of social exclusion, increasing inequality of the share of wealth, global warming and climate change, plastic pollution and biodiversity loss. But you could also think of the consequences of ultra-processed food - such as obesity and coronary diseases. More examples can be given. Notwithstanding their diversity, all these challenges have in common that they seriously endanger the future of humanity and planet Earth.
For the sake of our children and the world around us we simply cannot afford to dwell on a Lisbon 2000+ story anymore.
That is why we - the Board of Directors of CESAER - have adopted a work plan for the period from 2020 to 2021. In short, we will direct all the efforts of over 600 volunteers and leaders from our Member universities towards shaping knowledge societies for a sustainable future. In the coming two years, nine task forces and five workgroups will contribute to ecological, economic and social sustainability and to shaping the future of the ERA.
We call upon all of you to widen the understanding of the societal context, enrich the Lisbon 200+ narrative and to adopt the boldest ambitions to effectively contribute to tackling these challenges.
You can count on us as strong and committed partners in shaping an ERA that contributes to achieving the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. In our view, achieving them constitutes the single most relevant universally applicable guiding agenda. Hence, the ERA may only be shaped as a genuine European contribution towards the rest of the world.
Let us look now at the second type of challenges identified in the article: key technologies in the twenty-first century.
In our vision, it is important to never forget what happened when Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) from universities were applied without the consideration of the Social Sciences and Humanities. Back in nineteen-thirties, Edmund Husserl warned of the devastating consequences of applying Naturwissenschaft without Geisteswissenschaft. We are all aware of what happened.
Nowadays, universities and the societies in which we work are confronted with immense questions deriving from key technologies such as artificial intelligence, and bio-, quantum- and nano-technologies.
As these key technologies are incredibly important, we call upon you to establish the ERA as a community upholding and applying specific values such as integrity; responsible research, education and innovation; values and ethics; and equality, diversity and inclusion. Much has been achieved in this respect in Europe.
Wer sonst, wenn nicht wir? We in Europe need to uphold this legacy and adapt it to contemporary and future contexts. Who else on earth will?
On top of the ecological, economic and social challenges, and of the challenges linked to key technologies, we are confronted with a third type of challenges: the societal ones.
Populism, authoritarianism, protectionism and nationalism threaten the international orientation of our universities and - in some cases - academic freedom and institutional autonomy. In legal terms, they threaten the free circulation of technology, scientific knowledge and its bearers - students, teachers, researchers, inventors and other staff alike.
That is why we need to reinforce our efforts to guarantee the conditions for peace, prosperity and sustainable development. There is an immediate call for action upon all of us to safeguard the respect for the rule of law and human rights, freedom from political interference, tolerance of divergent opinions, democratic citizenship and evidence-based policymaking.
We call upon you to shape the ERA also as a community of such general values enabling universities to assume our responsibility and to safeguard the free circulation of technology, scientific knowledge and its bearers, and academic freedom and institutional autonomy in knowledge societies in Europe and beyond.
Let me summarise.
The universities of science and technology united within CESAER call upon you twice.
First, we invite you to embark on a journey leading towards a paradigm shift concerning the ERA and European knowledge societies. In our view, (i) an orientation to contributing to ecological, economic and social sustainability and (ii) the broadening of academia-industry to academia/non-academia collaboration are - amongst others - two essential additional building stones for the new paradigm.
Second, in the light of the development of a vision 2030 on the Universities of the Future in Europe, we call upon you to establish the ERA as a community of specific and general values to tackle the challenges from key technologies in the twenty-first century and to safeguard the free circulation of technology, scientific knowledge and its bearers, and academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
Let me conclude by stating that the new approach of European and national institutions towards universities should depart from the needs and challenges of universities. Your approach should support us in tackling our needs and challenges, instead of telling us how and when to transform and modernise. We would welcome a Vision 2030 FOR the Universities of the Future in Europe and beyond that enables us to release unprecedented transformative forces to contribute to ecological, economic and social sustainability and to act as autonomous agents of great transformation.
We - the over fifty comprehensive and specialised universities of science and technology united within CESAER - offer ourselves as your strategic partner shaping the ERA and knowledge societies in Europe and beyond together with you in the years to come.”