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Required reading

July 2, 2009

Principled message of freedom for universities: Unesco group calls for global ombudsman and index to bolster academic values,” Phil Baty, Times Higher Education (June 18/09).

Excerpts:

An international ombudsman to uphold the “principles and values” of higher education should be established alongside a global index of academic freedom.

These are the key recommendations made by senior figures in European education who gathered in Romania’s capital Bucharest last month to attend the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Forum on Higher Education.

The proposals are made in the “Bucharest Message”, which will be submitted for validation to Unesco’s 2009 World Conference on Higher Education in Paris next month.

In light of the global financial crisis, it states that “higher education and research are now entering a new stage of development”, and calls for the restoration of the central role universities once played in supporting democracy, culture and social cohesion.

The message proposes that universities adopt codes of conduct on ethical teaching and research practices, and ensure that “civic values, democracy, justice and tolerance” are institutionally embedded to become “integral learning outcomes for all students”.

But the key recommendations are the creation of an international ombudsman and a global index to rank nations according to their commitment to university autonomy and academic freedom.

The Bucharest Message says: “Institutions of higher education promote values essential for democratic society, as well as for the cultural development of society and the personal development of individuals.

“For this very reason, higher education cannot be separated from values and ethics. They are, together with academic freedom and institutional autonomy, key tenets of higher education.”

But it adds: “The recent financial crisis has illustrated that a lack of such qualities and competencies can bring about overwhelming negative consequences.

“Furthermore, only with academic freedom and … autonomy are higher education institutions able to strive for truth and further knowledge in order to contribute to … sustainable development.”…

As many in the international higher education sector feel threatened by the prospect of years of economic austerity, the message also warns against narrowing the focus of university research to tackle purely financial problems.

“The support of all areas of study and research needs to be ensured, thus not only focusing on areas of immediate commercial interest,” the message states. …

The international economic downturn is likely to inflict long-term damage on the quality of higher education, Unesco delegates have warned.

In their “Bucharest Message” to July’s World Conference on Higher Education, they said that the recession is “changing the context in which higher education will function in the years to come”.

The message adds that “cost-cutting measures” are adversely affecting academic staff’s employment conditions and professional development.

“The consequences of such measures could lead to a long-lasting negative impact on the quality of higher education,” it states.

Read the whole article.

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