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Universities are based on and guided by values. It is vital that each institution declares them as principles of good practice and puts in place strategies to embrace and practice them. Francesco Ubertini tells us how living values at the University of Bologna means reconciling tradition with openness to a changing world.

The Magna Charta Universitatum is an inspiring charter, under which 430 European universities formalised the central role of education as the foundation for any society and for the future of all mankind, essentially identifying some fundamental academic values such as autonomy, freedom, equity and integrity. The Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna (UNIBO) was one of the main actors leading, in 1988, to the drafting of this document. Today more than 900 universities have signed it, committing to share and support those same values which are still alive and increasingly relevant. The University of Bologna enthusiastically joined the Magna Charta Observatory "Living values Project" as a pilot university. Participating in this initiative represented a valuable opportunity for an internal discussion and review of the values with which the university identifies among the academic community including students, teaching, research and administrative staff.

As universities, our main duty is to train active and motivated citizens able to make their own contribution in democratic societies. Nowadays, society is developing into a complex network of connections and interdependencies with local, national and global implications. Our communities are facing many challenges, such as people relocation and migration due to poverty, conflicts and geopolitical changes. To face all these societal challenges, universities are the ones to provide students with the knowledge and proper technical skills to respond to a rapidly changing job market, but also to make them acquire and live the essential values of a democratic society. If the value of education lies indeed in creating values, indicating behaviours and encouraging a sense of responsibility, our duty is towards students. Therefore, we must nurture global citizens. As a consequence, the academic community cannot refrain from reaffirming its commitment to democracy, by teaching how to apply it and defend it.

Bearing this main duty in mind, “living values” also means re-thinking and adjusting the aforementioned values to current necessities. While fundamental values, such as institutional autonomy, academic freedom and integrity, are still valid and even more important in order to create a trustworthy relationship between educational systems and institutions, as well as internal and external stakeholders, the practical application of those values needs to take into account national laws.

As we can observe worldwide, the landscape of higher education is characterised by very diverse education systems and student populations with a greater international exposure. All these features lead to the necessity of re-thinking university values. Institutional autonomy, for example, is greatly dependent on external pressures and, therefore, cannot be absolute. In turn, some fundamental values, such as academic integrity and freedom, may be strictly connected to autonomy, and therefore need to be protected. In this sense, universities must continue to be key actors and guardians of these values, preserving those attitudes of openness toward other perspectives, delivering respectful dialogue, peaceful expression and critical discourse. This should not be dependent on or influenced by institutional censorship, government intervention, public or societal pressure, or any other restriction.

Besides emphasising core values, relevance should also be given to the values that each institution identifies with, which are key in making each university the leading actor of decisive social transformations. In this regard, the University of Bologna is strongly committed to sustainability, which, from our viewpoint, means enhancing and safeguarding the environment, improving community wellbeing, promoting knowledge-based development and social equity.

Sustainability is thus a distinctive value of UNIBO which engages with the local and global communities in order to acknowledge and prioritise its commitment to serve society. The University of Bologna has adopted an innovative way of monitoring and reporting the contributions generated by its institutional activities, including education, research and outreach aimed at the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Being one of the UNA Europa University Alliance founding members, UNIBO recognises sustainability as a core value, providing leadership and promoting a systemic approach in research, education and social development to contribute to the SDGs.

In accordance with what is stated in the Magna Charta Universitatum, "In the rejection of intolerance and in permanent dialogue, the University becomes a privileged meeting place for professors and students", UNIBO promotes inclusion and values diversity (ethnic, racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, and disability) as elements of strength in its strategies to stamp out any form of discrimination. As an example, the Integrated Research Team (IRT) Alma Gender, launched in 2015, aims to promote research and teaching methods on gender issues and support equal opportunities within the university's community. In order to achieve these goals, UNIBO has approved the 2017-2020 Gender Equality Plan, which is part of the university's strategies and leads the IAU HESD cluster on SDG 5 that includes satellite institutions, from different countries, working to share good practices, define strategies and produce guidelines on gender promotion for decision makers.

In conclusion, living university values at UNIBO means being engaged with both the local and the global community, giving priority to our commitment to serve society with a view of present and future challenges.


Francesco Ubertini

Professor Francesco Ubertini is the Rector of the University of Bologna, as well as full Professor of Mechanics of Solids and Structures. He is a member of the Board of Rectors of UnaEuropa - University Alliance Europe, Board member of the European University Association, President of Federico Zeri Foundation, the Bologna Business School, Fibra - Italo Brazilian Cultural Foundation and Bononia University Press. He is also Board member of the Italian University Rectors Conference and Council member of Magna Charta Universitatum Observatory.

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