December 18, 2023

The Evolving Role of Universities in a Changing World

By Professor Snjezana Prijic-Samarzija, Rector of University of Rijeka

Apart from allowing us to reflect on the year passed and sum up our achievements, the end of the year is the perfect opportunity to turn to the future and think about what awaits around the corner. In a constantly evolving world that faces challenges and crises, we are obliged to reflect on the idea of universities, the future of universities, and their social mission and role. From the Middle Ages to today, universities have undergone many changes, but the challenges of today represent a turning point without historical precedent. It is clear that universities, as for centuries the centres of production of new knowledge and the creation of conditions for future generations to continue the same mission, depend on the necessity of adaptation and transformation. Although the academic world has long debated future concerns, we have reached a critical moment in the paradigm change.

As many European or global strategies, visions, and university policies are focused on the foresight of the modalities of the sustainable future, and various fora, we reflect on the importance of adaptation and change. Universities are no longer just places for learning, teaching, and research; they are beacons responsible for democratic and authentic social engagement in local and regional communities. As universities cease to be isolated elitist institutions, they simultaneously become centres of intensive and structural internationalization through the creation of transnational university alliances, consortia, networks, and associations, without which relevant research and higher education are no longer possible.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to chair YERUN and act as a bridge between different academic communities in my role as president. Through joint work and a plethora of projects and initiatives, we have witnessed the creation of a cosmopolitan virtual universe, a home to many researchers and relentless individuals who constantly enrich this world with critical questioning, academic argumentative rigour, and, sometimes, provocative claims. The academic world is a world of intellectual disagreements and passionate creativity where valuable consensus is based on profound debates – and that is how it should be. It was with great pleasure that I passed the YERUN baton to my successor, Rector Dag Rune Olsen, without any doubt in his expertise, lively spirit, and dedication. I look forward to seeing what YERUN achieves next under his leadership!

Looking back on an eventful year, we must remind ourselves that universities derive their essential value from the fact that they should make their people effective fighters in the constant battle that rages between good and evil. The idea of universities is to encourage and assist the future intellectual benefactors of mankind and, if possible, to have only such benefactors. After all, we can only be the thriving success we are with the support of all YERUN people.

I am honoured to be finishing up another great year of YERUN activities. To each and every person who made it possible, thank you. Hoping that we will start the New Year full of enthusiasm, energy, and new ideas, I wish all of you in the YERUN family a wonderful holiday season!

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