In Eurodoc, we believe that research and higher education play an important role in democracies. This summer, Eurodoc’s president and vice-president are visiting Ukraine to highlight that a sustainable recovery of Ukraine needs to include the research and higher education sector, not least because research and higher education are vital for a democratic society.
The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year. Since its founding in the wake of WWII, the Council of Europe has worked towards the promotion and strengthening of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The Council has always been a strong advocate for education and science as cornerstones of democracy. The importance of this has become ever more visible since, as much of the misinformation from Russia is building on changing history education based on political ideology, and it plays a tremendous part in fueling the aggression.
A healthy democracy requires that all its citizens have an equal opportunity to partake. This necessitates a high quality education that enables citizens to understand and shape the society they live in, meaning education of high quality at all levels, from kindergarten to the doctoral level, from hands-on and practical to abstract and theoretical education.
In the best of cases, education at all levels is evolving and adapting to ensure that the citizens can fully participate in shaping the present and the future of their democratic societies. Education plays a crucial role for how we as societies learn from the past and understand the democratic communities we live in.
History, however, like much research can also be misused; it can be used to create divisive narratives, to glorify and justify repression and violence. Russia’s deployment of false historical narratives is just one example. History, then, is fundamentally also a question of responsibility towards the past as well as the present and the future – and education plays a decisive role in how we as citizens embody this responsibility, partake in and shape our society.
With education comes the ability to see solutions to problems and challenges, to identify what is not yet known, and to recognize what needs to be understood. Education paves the way for research, and research in turn leads to new technologies, knowledge and understandings, that again shape society and education. Thus, the two – research and education – are fundamentally interlinked in a democracy.
We face many challenges that are disrupting Europe: the war in Ukraine, or the rise of AI, or the effects of climate change with the flooding in Germany and Belgium last summer and the extreme heat waves in Greece and Italy this summer. To face these challenges, society needs research and we as citizens need to be better educated to understand how they will affect our lives and deal with the changes brought about.
As researchers and academics we then also have a special responsibility to ensure that research becomes accessible to as many as possible.
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