Published in Weber, L. & Bergan, S. (eds) The public responsibility for higher education and research, Council of Europe Higher Education Series Nr. 2, Strasbourg, 2005
At first sight, the topic “public responsibility for higher education and research” might appear a theoretical question of the kind typically cherished by academic thinkers, but without any practical relevance. But I shall argue that, on the contrary, the question is of increasing practical importance for the effectiveness of the higher education and research system. A first and very strong political sign is that the ministers of education stated firmly in their Prague and Berlin communiqués (2001 and 2003) that higher education is a “public responsibility”, a principle which was already implicit in the Bologna Declaration (1999). A second, but different concern, shared by university leaders and experts, is that it is crucial to define correctly the nature and scope of the public responsibility for higher education and research and how it is implemented; otherwise this political good intention could act counterproductively. A serious indicator of this potential threat arises from the fact that the ministers of education added in the Prague Communiqué (2001) that higher education “should be considered a ‘public good’ and is and will remain a public responsibility (regulations, etc.)”. This means that the sense given to the expression “public good” is all but insignificant. This is all the more important as we can also hear or read from time to time that higher education and research are a “human right” or a “democratic right”, without a precise definition of what is meant by them. The question of the nature and scope of the public responsibility for higher education and research and, in particular, the interpretation of the notion of “public good” are so important for the effectiveness of the higher education and research system that the Council of Europe, under the initiative of its Steering Committee for Higher Education and Research (CDESR), has decided to organise a conference in the framework of the “Bologna seminars”18 in order to establish the real nature and scope of the public responsibility for higher education and research and to publish the results in this book.