Intercultural university models for the 21st century

By Manuela Guillerne, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra

Winds of change are whistling through social, political and cultural institutions, all over the world, and universities in particular. It may well be said that in the 21st century these have been in the eye of the hurricane since they had unquestionably become the locus of knowledge par excellence of modern nation-states and, therefore, where the national elite of rulers was formed, the national scientific and cultural references of the past, present and the future, were devised, refined, delivered and finally where national identity was energized. In sum, in global times, the University is reflecting the crisis of the Nation-State.

Europe started this century with the launching of the Bologna process, which aimed “to create a coherent and cohesive European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010”, and it seemed that, once completed, the scene would have been set up and would remain stable for quite some time. In fact, it fulfilled, within the deadline, its main objectives: – “adopt a system of easily readable and comparable degrees; adopt a system with two main cycles (undergraduate/graduate); establish a system of credits (ECTS); promote mobility by overcoming legal recognition and administrative obstacles; promote European co-operation in quality assurance; promote a European dimension in higher education”. These accomplishments have certainly brought innumerous benefits for higher education in the name of its internationalization and in the form of networking. Furthermore, it broke down innumerous frontiers and if, on the one hand, it homogenized often carelessly of national epistemological traditions, cultural uses and local relevance, on the other hand, it opened up a wide horizon that started to long for farther and away from Europe. In addition, the design and implementation of an EHEA and the development of the idea of a “knowledge economy” has carefully been observed by the governments of other regions in the world and inspired the creation of some governmental and non-governmental policies, e. g. in Latin America. The mirror-like reflecting images between universities in Europe and in the Americas offer an interesting field for colonial and postcolonial analysis.

The universities which started in the Americas in colonial times were often organizations which transplanted the models from their mother institutions in Europe, formerly under the umbrella of the Church and later of the Nation-State. Despite its national symbolism and identity, the University has been described by several authors as a “colonial” institution per se both in its essence and history and, in fact, university models expanded from the North to the South, both within Europe and from Europe to overseas. However, it should not be ignored the a posteriori reverse influence from North America to Europe (North-North) and nonetheless the currently starting influence from South America to Europe (South-North). This justifies the interest that this special issue on “Winds from the South: Intercultural university models for the 21st century” is thought to raise among the AHHE readers. Furthermore, globalization has had an impact in the role, life and image of universities worldwide, which has been described as a loss of their identity, more specifically of their cultural and national ethnic identity, in some cases, their tradition. This is why the experience of the intercultural/indigenous universities is worth considering today because they are adequately considered to be ethnically grounded.

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