On Friday, 31 January, the AKADEMIA-Network of transform! europe organised a two-day conference in Madrid on the question of University, Science and Research in Europe. It was hosted by the three Spanish members of our network: the Foundation for a Europe of Citizens (FEC), the Foundation for Marxist Studies (FIM), and the Catalan Foundation L’Alternativa. The conference took place on 31 January and 1 February 2014 at Residencia de Estudiantes/Spanish Centre of Scientific Research (CSIC).
Apart from the organisers, the meeting was kindly supported by Marie-Christine Vergiat, Member of the European Parliament from the GUE/NGL and the Party of the European Left. Walter Baier (transform! europe), Eddy Sanchez Iglesias (FIM), Jaime Aja (FEC) and Antoni Barbarà (L’Alternativa) introduced the papers to an audience of fifty university researchers who participated in the meeting throughout the entire conference.
The aim was to facilitate an exchange on the situation of resistances to neoliberal reforms of universities, research and science policies in the European Union. The variety of roles that the researchers play in their respective countries made this conference special.
We could not only count on papers from specialists in universities, science and research policies (Vicenzo Pavone from CSIC, Adoración Guamán from the University of Valencia, Peter Fleissner from Polytechnic University Vienna, Rainer Zimmermann from Polytechnic University Munich, Manuel Monleón from Polytechnic University Valencia, José María Díaz Nafria from University of Leon and Janine Guespin from the University of Rouen) but also on contributions by personalities responsible for European and international affairs in major trade unions from France, Spain and Italy (Jean-Paul Lainé and Marc Delepouve from FSU-SNESUP, Alicia Durán from Comisiones Obreras, Alessandro Arienzo from CGIL), all of whom were brought together with Members of Parliamentary Commissions on Education (Marie-Christine Vergiat, Front de Gauche; Joan Mena, EUiA, from Catalunya; Caridad García, Izquierda Unida) and persons responsible in the European Left party for education and research (Enrique Diaz and Rafael Plá from Spain, Sonja Crivelli from Switzerland, Lena Hulden from Finland, Sissy Velissariou from Greece).
As the conception of the university that we defend is that of a community at the service of citizens, we also invited administrative staff (José Pinel from the University of Lyon) to take the floor and dedicated a panel to students and precarious researchers by inviting some of their representatives in associations (Jheysson Salas and Lara Manyes from Spain, Irina Castro from Portugal and Vincent Talbo from France).
But as any intellectual and social struggle with future projections has to depart from remembering historical experiences we also relied on senior scholars specialised in education, research and science for two key-note speeches. Marco Antonio Rodrigues Dias, former director of the Higher Education Department of UNESCO, delivered the opening speech explaining how the neo-liberal turn towards the commodification of knowledge produced in universities came about at the global level. From his experienced Brazilian perspective, he provided us with a non-Eurocentric explanation of alternatives to those conceptions.
It was around alternatives that we built the second day of the seminar by scrutinising the question of social and gender inequalities in university, science and research through the prism of the democratisation of knowledge in society. The closing speech was delivered by Pedro Marset, Professor of the History of Sciences at the University of Murcia, who lectured on the central importance that the Residencia de Estudiantes and the Junta de Ampliación de Estudios had in the struggle of Spanish society to free itself through science and research from the influence of reactionary theocratic forces.
The outcomes of this international conference were the issuing of a transform! europe report departing from the debates at the conference and a future common publication on the state of resistances and alternatives. More importantly, the conference also served to create a stable AKADEMIA Working Group on Science, Society and Democracy. This group will focus on building possible alternatives in research policy at the European level, at the same time selecting a key-sector, energy, around which to mobilise citizens and scholars in quest of participation and knowledge.
For further exchanges the AKADEMIA network collaborative platform can be used which is open to any critical researchers willing to contribute to this work (For contact: firstname.lastname@example.org).