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The University in the Twenty-first Century: A new constitution - and an ecological approach

THE TALK HAS BEEN POSTPONED. CHEF Talk by Ronald Barnett, Emeritus Professor, Institute of Education, University College London, United Kingdom.

2020.01.16 | Frederik August Lynegaard Norup

Date Tue 16 Jun
Time 14:00 15:30
Location CUDiM, Aarhus University, Campus Aarhus, building 1483, room 656. Video-link to Danish School of Education, Campus Emdrup, room D120.

Currently, universities are met with mistrust and a sense of their unworldly detachment. Typically, they respond in various ways: (1) they proclaim that they are already much socially engaged; (2) they put work in to demonstrating their existing social contribution, pointing to concrete examples of their ‘civic’ or ‘global’ or ‘environmental’ outreach; (3) they pick up on a major idea - eg, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals - and actively work to shape their portfolio of activities in that light. There is, therefore, a very wide axis of responses on the part of universities, from defensive to active stances.  However, they all lack a coherent and common frame on the basis of which a new relationship between universities and the wider society might be built.

In this talk, Ronald Barnett will urge the case for a social contract to be established as the fundamental plank of political and social policy in higher education. It would amount to a new constitution for universities. He gives the case substance by drawing on the idea of the ecological university, which is a university that is aware that it moves in multiple ecozones and deploys its resources in repairing and enhancing those ecozones.

Its strategic plan, accordingly, would lie in examining and projecting just what it can do, across its key ecozones in turn – namely knowledge, learning, social institutions, the economy, the polity, the natural environment, persons and culture.  Each of the sections of its corporate plan would amount to nothing less than a specification of its imaginings, glimpses, possibilities and creative action plans and goals in each zone.

Such a plan could form the basis for a University Constitution, that (1) offers the state assurance as to the public goods that each university is making to the world and (2) provides each university with rightful autonomies to shape its own future. It would also both broaden the contribution that universities can make and provide the basis for a continuing and productive conversation between universities and the state.