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Academic freedom: a fundamental value guiding our work and our choices

30 June 2022

Daniela Mapelli, Rector, University of Padua

After two years of virtual conferences, in 2022 the University of Padua has had the honour to facilitate the return to face-to-face meetings and host the 2022 Annual Conference and General Assembly of the Coimbra Group – a welcome change and the occasion to see new and familiar faces in our beautiful city. The high attendance of delegates – more than 280 representatives from the 41 institutions making up our Group – was testament to the wish to return to connect not only during meetings and seminars but also in social and cultural settings.
It has been a pleasure to do so in such a momentous year for the University of Padua: the year we celebrate 800 years since the foundation of our higher education institution. The overarching theme of the https://800anniunipd.it/ celebrations of our 800th anniversary is Academic Freedom, a fundamental value that has always resonated both in our motto (Universa Universis Patavina Libertas) and in our work.
Science is a universal language that speaks to us of freedom and brotherhood, and has always done so. Those of you who visited Padua during the conference had the chance to enter the Aula Magna crossing the Hall of Forty, where Galileo Galilei’s podium stands as well as the portraits of 40 foreign scholars who chose Padua for their studies centuries ago. It was here that they trained in their respective fields and flourished, and then took their knowledge to other places, oftentimes to their countries of origin. In hindsight, we could interpret the wandering of these scholars as the forming of a “Europe of science”, centuries before the creation of Europe as a political institution. And during the conference history repeated itself – luckily, in this case: we met, each of us with our own experience, building together and sharing a long-term vision based on those same ideals.
It was our strong desire that the Coimbra Group Annual Conference and General Assembly was also an occasion to reflect upon the past and the future of our free institutions. Hence the choice that the conference went under the title “Universa Universis: Academic Freedom in a Transforming World”. Despite my absence due to my being unwell, I have followed closely the works of the conference and have been informed of the progress that was made and the fruitful exchange that happened during the three days.
One of the purposes of the Coimbra Group is to influence European educational policy and to develop best practice through mutual exchange of experiences. This has been particularly evident during the Padua conference. Ms Tine Delva, Deputy Head of Unit for Higher education at the European Commission, intervened during the seminar “Innovating in Joint Degrees: experiences, challenges, opportunities”, which provided food for thought in the view of creating a more cohesive European Degree Label.
The Public Conference was also an occasion to further reflect upon what lessons we can draw from the past stories of academic freedom to help us shape the future of our universities. I would like to thank Prof. Pievani, from the University of Padua, Prof. Milena Králícková, Rector of Charles University in Prague, Prof. László Borhy, Rector of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Dr Joanna Drake, Deputy Director-General of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, and Dr Gian Maria Greco, Board Member of the Marie Curie Alumni Association, for providing the perspective of their home institutions.
Particularly relevant to the future of our universities was the second session of the Public Conference, which was dedicated to the achievements and outlooks of the 8 European Universities Alliances represented by Coimbra Group members. Exchange of experiences and perspectives is so important and we can all learn from one another.
Freedom is the fundamental value that guides our work and our choices. On this well-defined path, we will continue to work together towards our common objectives.
On behalf of the University of Padua, I would like to wish all of you a wonderful summer and send our best regards.