Necessary reforms for the continuation of university life
Roeland in ‘t Veld
Mass higher education is common practice now in the Western world. One would suppose that as a consequence the popular support for science increases considerably. But in reality the acceptability of science as the basis for the creation of truth is widely questioned. And the utility of scientific knowledge for the solution of societal problems is criticised broadly. Some speak about the death of truth.
Recently in many countries political leaders are elected who loudly favour factfree politics. Populism is more and more fashionable. Universities and scientists live in their own bubbles. They mourn about the stupidity of those who do not accept the blessings of scientific discoveries and new insights. And the neopositivists blame the constructivists for spoiling the purity of the concept of truth by arguing that truth is a social construct.
We argue that there is more at stake than stupidity, that universities should reform their epistemological structure as well as their internal prestige calculus in order to bridge the growing gap with society at large.
The predominant evolutionary pattern of scientific organisation during the last couple of centuries has been characterised by increasing specialisation into scientific disciplines, each with a specific methodology. As a consequence the uomo universale has disappeared, and the potential of disciplinary knowledge tot solve societal problems (that are always multidisciplinary in nature) has diminished. Transdisciplinary research is still relatively rare. We define it as the process of argumentation and communication between scientists and policy makers with the purpose of designing an acceptable action perspective. The success criterion for the results of transdisciplinarity is not validity, but social robustness.
If universities do not reform both their curricula and research organisation in such a manner that new equilibria emerge between disciplinary and transdisciplinary structures they will envisage intensifying lack of public support as well as diminishing societal relevance.
Roel in ’t Veld ( The Hague, 1942) is a scientist in the domain of public administration. He held chairs at nine European universities. His major specialisation is democracy theory. He has also written extensively on research policy and university strategy.
His present focal subject is knowledge democracy, in which the triangle of the interactions between politics, science and media is analysed. (Knowledge Democrac, Springer 2010; Kennisdemocratie, SDU 2010)
He served as director-general higher education and scientific research in the Netherlands, designing a strategy for greater autonomy of universities, combined with the introduction of advanced quality control. As chairman of the National Council for Environmental Research he developed a methodology for bridging the gaps between science and politics.
Moreover he served as the vice-chairman of OECD’s Education Committee, was a member of the Board of Directors of IBM Benelux, and has accepted several assignments as a consultant fort the World Bank and the Council of Europe.
His scientific work consists of 50 books, about 200 articles and numerous columns.