Home Education Higher Education Institutions in the EU: Between Competition and Public Service
Historical and Theoretical Background
The remainder of this chapter will outline the development of HEIs in the EU to explain their character and current influences upon them (Sects. 1.3.1—1.3.3). To examine HEIs in the EU requires an understanding of the nature of European HEIs more widely. The idea of HEIs has been a manifold concept since the establishment of the first European universities in the narrower sense about 850 years ago which changed over time with emphasis being set on different aspects of their activities according to the general historical development of that time. Thus the ‘mission’ of the European university is best explained from a historical perspective. Further, the remainder of this chapter will position the book within the approaches of European integration theory to illuminate the theoretical background (Sect. 1.3.4).
The Original Non-economic Purpose of European HEIs
The first HEIs in Europe developed in the Middle Ages and have since undergone two significant periods of change. Originally European HEIs were bodies widely autonomous from the church and state. This, despite the Bible being regarded as the ultimate truth, allowed HEIs to question current doctrine (the scholastic method) which is considered to be the beginning of the concept of academic freedom. Whilst the medieval universities’ main focus was to teach students recognising ‘divine truth’, professors also conducted experiments and knowledge transfer activities such as serving as advisors or judges. As HEIs developed under pre-nation-state conditions and Latin served as the lingua franca, they were international institutions engaged in lively mutual exchange.
The first period of change occurred in early modernity. Corresponding to the rise of nation states in Europe, the previously international HEIs with free moving academics became national institutions. At the same time, societal developments such as the exploration of (to Europeans) hitherto unknown parts of the world, discoveries in the natural sciences by Copernicus, Galileo and, later, Newton and the rise of humanist philosophy nourished HEIs. In the 19th century, the Prussian Minister of Education Wilhelm von Humboldt triggered the second period of change by establishing a new concept which integrated a stronger research focus into the nationalised HEIs. Accordingly, research was conducted for the sake of acquiring new knowledge with no applications in mind, was chiefly mono-disciplinary with increasing specialisation and was supposed to inform teaching. Furthermore, the ideas of allowing students to choose their courses freely and to guarantee professors freedom of choice regarding the directions of research and teaching, strengthened the academic freedom.
By the end of the 19th century European universities had thus developed into research intensive institutions which, despite being nationalised, retained a high degree of academic freedom and autonomy. They served the public purpose in the national interest by teaching and conducting research for knowledge’s sake rather than towards a particular, commercially exploitable aim and were funded mainly by the state.
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