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IX Higher Education Symposium Held in Frankfurt

The IX Symposium on Higher Education took place at Goethe University in Frankfurt on November 28, 2013. It brought together top-class scholars and experts to present lectures and lead discussion with an audience of about 200 officials of higher education institutions and educational facilities. Dr Shen Cen-Chu, Director of the Educational Division of the Taipei Representative Office, also participted.

The symposium is an annual event, jointly organized by the Hanns Martin Schleyer Foundation, the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation, and Goethe University. The theme of this 9th symposium was: “The Autonomous University – is this the Best Practice Model?” The issues raised were: For what reasons does an institution of higher education need autonomy? Is increasing the degree of freedom and responsibility a key to success for a university? What constraints and problems does autonomy bring with it? How can institutions of higher education sustain their position in the face of increasing competitive pressure?

One of the aims of the symposium was to outline Germany’s 15 years of higher education reform, and a diverse range of models of autonomous institutions of higher education, in different political and social contexts, and their potential. Institutions of higher education currently exercise a high degree of autonomy concerning their internal organization and academic issues, and the private sector still plays a minor role in the funding of higher education.

In the last two decades, however, the scope of universities’ autonomy has been widened, making them increasingly independently responsible for dealing with human resources and budget control. Dr Shen posed a question on many people’s mind to the panel: Most of the prestigious universities obtain up to one third of their budget from private enterprises. How is it possible to avoid these enterprises exerting a negative influence on the universities? For example in in such areas as their staffing, their curricula, or their research projects?

The vigorous discussion that followed this question and others throughout the day reflects the relevance and importance of this year’s theme.