Central European university rectors: More needs to be said of role of responsibility of universities

At a meeting of the LERU-CE7 network at the University of Tartu on 3 & 4 May the rectors of the Central European universities belonging to the network discussed what needs to be done to increase the financing of research and people’s awareness of the need for scientific investment and to support the spread in society of opinions rooted in fact.

During the meeting the participants agreed that the universities forming part of LERU (the League of European Research Universities) and its partnership programme of seven Central European universities LERU-CE7 must press for increased funding for research from national financiers and from the next Horizon Framework Programme of the European Union. Increased national investment is required, among other things, to bridge the innovation gap between European countries.

“Today we presented survey results that showed that for every euro invested in a research university the economy gets six euros back,” Jean Chambaz, the head of the LERU network and the President of Sorbonne University, told ERR Novaator. “And every job created in a university produces six jobs for society and the economy.”

The European Parliament elections lie ahead, whose results and impact are hard to predict against a backdrop of growing populism. Nevertheless, universities will have to do a lot of explaining to new MEPs and form contacts so that the new parliament supports growth in research investments. The rectors who came together in Tartu agreed that the main criterion in the distribution of research funding in Europe should be scientific quality, not geographic quotas.

The LERU network is preparing an address to the new European Parliament and to the European Commission in which the need for growth in research investments and the importance of universities in a changing society are emphasised once again.

During the meeting the participants also discussed autonomy and academic freedom, ensuring both of which is of growing importance in Europe. The rectors feel that universities need to explain to the public, in layman’s terms, why investment in research is required. In the context of the spread of fake news and false information, universities are centres of scientific and fact-based knowledge. As such, the role of universities and their responsibility in this new situation are much broader than mere academic and research work. It was stressed during the meeting that universities must not fall into the trap of self-censorship but support a plurality of opinions and protect academic freedom in every way.

In addition to the University of Tartu, the LERU-CE7 initiative involves the Belgrade (Serbia), Eötvös Loránd (Hungary), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Prague Charles (Czech Republic), Warsaw (Poland) and Zagreb (Croatia) universities. Representatives of the LERU universities taking part in the meeting were the rectors of the Sorbonne (France), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Heidelberg (Germany) and Helsinki (Finland) universities. The next meeting of the network will take place in Hungary in autumn.

For further information please contact:
Taivo Raud, Director, Grant Centre, University of Tartu, +372 737 6193, +372 5645 6580, taivo.raud@ut.ee

Sandra Sommer Press Officer Tel: +(372) 737 5681
Mob: +(372) 5307 7820 sandra.sommer@ut.ee