Two days to discuss the challenges of the university system and university governance

Institutional Communication Service

Some 50 researchers from Switzerland and several European countries will gather in Lugano on 6 and 7 October to discuss the many challenges that the future of the higher education system is facing. It is the fourth workshop organised by REHES (Research on Higher Education and Science in Switzerland). After the Universities of Bern and Lausanne and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur, it will be hosted by the Institute of Communication and Public Policy at Università della Svizzera italiana. We spoke about it with Benedetto Lepori, adjunct professor at the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society and director of the research group on research policy and universities.

What are the goals of the Research on Higher Education and Science in Switzerland? 

The Swiss Research Network on Higher Education and Science (REHES) is coordinated by the University of Zurich. It brings together some 50 researchers active in Swiss higher education and science studies. It is a small community that deals with issues of great political and social relevance, such as the management of the university system, the effectiveness of higher education and research, and the governance of universities. These are issues at the core of international academic and policy debate, yet with some exceptions, Swiss research in these areas is poorly structured and has little global visibility. REHES aims to improve this situation by fostering collaboration and exchange among Swiss research groups, running a series of publications and organising annual encounters. The fourth in the series, held in Lugano this week, will bring together some 50 researchers from Switzerland and several European countries who will present their research on universities, society and academic careers.


What are the most critical challenges that will be discussed at this meeting?  

As in other countries, the Swiss university system faces fundamental challenges with no easy answers. The transformations in university management promoted by public authorities and the increased market orientation generate tension with the academic values that must remain at the centre. This tension increases the complexity of university management; this transformation generates opportunities in terms of greater organisational agility but also risks of instability. 

The academic profession and careers have been profoundly transformed in recent decades, becoming more diverse and, perhaps, more precarious; this generates a greater need for guidance and structuring of individual careers within open paths but with sufficiently clear rules. In addition, academia faces significant global challenges, such as sustainability and digitisation, and it is not entirely clear what the implications will be on its functioning. These examples illustrate the relevance of the issues that will be discussed at the conference from the practice perspective. 


What prompted USI to host the fourth REHES? 

The research group I lead within the Institute of Communication and Public Policy at USI represents one of the major centres in Switzerland for university and policy research studies with a good level of international visibility and several major ongoing projects. Among them, it is essential to mention the project on the diversity of higher education institutions funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the coordination of the ETER database of European universities funded by the European Commission, and the participation in the Research Infrastructure on Research and Innovation (RISIS) funded by the Horizon 2020 programme. We have therefore organised the fourth annual REHES conference with an international outreach to foster collaboration between Swiss researchers and groups abroad working on similar topics. The event is, therefore, a contribution to REHES's efforts to structure and strengthen research in this field but also a valuable platform to make visible the work done at USI.