Freedom and Inclusiveness in Higher Education, by Eva Egron-Polak

Photo of Eva Egron-Polak during the Annual Conference

Eva Egron-Polak, former Secretary General at the International Association of Universities (IAU) and member of the Arqus International Advisory Board presented the paper “Freedom and Inclusiveness in Higher Education” during the second Annual Conference of the Alliance hosted by the University of Padua from 4th to 6th April.

The Conference theme of this year was "Free to Choose: Fostering Access to Higher Education in European Universities”, echoing the theme of freedom, a cornerstone value that is being celebrated on the 800th anniversary of the hosting university, Padua. The paper was presented during the plenary session “Freedom and accessibility: how the European University Initiative can contribute to a more inclusive higher education” (5th April) moderated by Prof. Manuel João Costa, Vice-Rector for Student Affairs and Pedagogical Innovation at the University of Minho.

In her publication, Eva argues how the values of freedom are being especially threatened during the present time as a result of the rise of populism and neo-nationalism. She advocates for the fundamental role of the universities to continually re-examine and live such values to tackle and overcome current and future crises in society. According to her approach, the concept of freedom is being interpreted, used and indeed misused in unprecedented ways in the current political and social context (the Ukrainian war and the pandemic are some of the examples she mentions in her paper) and universities must "provide a safe space for everyone to freely express diverse viewpoints and hold reasoned arguments about all topics".

The author also criticises the vision that a large part of society has of the university as an immobile institution, not being relevant, responsive enough or even useful, and argues that the university is increasingly reinforcing its civic role, asking itself the “why” of the scientific process and “how” it can make a meaningful contribution to society. The new Arqus Mission Statement (2022-2032) is an example that demonstrates the commitment to social responsibility and the civic role being adopted by Arqus. For inclusivity to be sustainable, it needs to be more than a mere response to external expectations: “For inclusiveness to be more than a laudable goal and become reality in the university or in an Alliance of universities, means a transformation in all aspects of the institutions. The Arqus Action Line devoted to access, inclusiveness and diversity is very much in line with this comprehensive approach”.

Download the paper here.