Development in Europe has to be based on Knowledge and High Qualified Human Resources. Universities are the most relevant institutions in what concerns scientific research, development of knowledge as well as for the training and preparation of the most qualified human resources. These means that Universities should be considered by the society, by politicians, by corporations and by entrepreneurs as key institutions for the development of any strategy aiming to increase economic growth. In this context priority and special attention should be given by politicians to universities, to scientific research and to the development of initiatives to generate prepared scientists, managers, engineers and technicians well adapted to the needs of the economic sector.
Let’s however underline that Universities are not institutions located upstream of the economic sector. Universities have to assume that their role in the society is not only the production of knowledge and the training of qualified human resources for economy but also to develop a relevant activity in other sectors namely in the area of human sciences, history, art, languages, basic sciences, biology, physics etc. etc.
Universities are those institutions that should develop a balance between economic and cultural values. To fulfill their role in society universities have to assume that they are real ORGANIZATIONS. Organizations in the sense that they should define clear objectives for their activities (teaching and research) as well as establish the resources – financial, structural and human – that are needed for the development of the planned activities. Within the universities one of the issues that we have to deal with is the way to increase the level of participation of the academics – professors, researchers, technicians, students – in the design of the initiatives and the projects included in the development plan of the institution.
To start with Universities should adopt a SWOT analysis of the institution involving in that exercise all their internal bodies as well as individual academics, researchers, students and other members of the staff. The SWOT Analysis should aim to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that University has and faces. This is the best way to design a strategy for the future. This strategy should be designed as a Business Plan for a period of five years, like the ones that are usually prepared by the big companies in the world of economy. On the preparation of this Business Plan, Universities should involve not only the different internal bodies of the university but also the governments and the stakeholders as well as the political parties. This means that a kind of a broad political consensus should be negotiated around the priority to be given to Higher Education and Scientific Research.
Governance of Universities should be a combination of Top-Down Approach with Bottom-Up practices. This means that within Universities the participation of the staff in the activities of the institutions should be high in order to motivate each member of the University. The position of Professors and researchers as active members of the Academic Community are key for the consolidation of the institution and for the efficiency of the activities to be developed.
Universities are institutions with a SOUL. Part of the SOUL belongs to each staff member. Many good ideas and proposals may be generated on the basis and not on the top. The present governing system of universities in Portugal have a structure and a number of bodies well adopted to the needs of a modernized institution aiming to develop teaching and research at the highest level. However from my experience, the role of the General Board could be reinforced with a higher representation of members coming from outside the University, namely from enterprises and other institutions of the civil society.
There are some areas that Portuguese universities should include in their program of activities as high priorities for the future:
- Attractiveness of international students.
- Exchange of professors and researchers with other universities.
- Development of multidisciplinary studies in relevant areas namely: Demography and natality, Migrations,Youth unemployment, Terrorism, Poverty, Inequality, Safety.
The area of scientific research is extremely relevant for the way universities are part of the development process in the country. The researchers should be free to develop their scientific programs. As it has been already said knowledge is vital for economic development but universities should focus their activities on basic and fundamental research sciences. Applied research is located downstream of fundamental research.
I believe that European universities are aware of the role they have to play. Let’s hope that politicians and entrepreneurs may also assume this relevant role that universities can play in the context of the need to speed up economic development and increase the European competitiveness in the world.