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What Role Do Croatian Higher Institutions Play? A study on University Civic Mission

Ledić, Jasminka; Ćulum, Bojana; Nuždić, Sandra; Jančec, Lucija;
What Role Do Croatian Higher Institutions Play? A study on University Civic Mission // Proceedings of the 4th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, Vol. 8. Higher education and citizenship, participation and democracy
Barcelona, Španjolska, 2008. (predavanje, međunarodna recenzija, cjeloviti rad (in extenso), znanstveni)

What Role Do Croatian Higher Institutions Play? A study on University Civic Mission

Ledić, Jasminka ; Ćulum, Bojana ; Nuždić, Sandra ; Jančec, Lucija ;

Vrsta, podvrsta i kategorija rada
Radovi u zbornicima skupova, cjeloviti rad (in extenso), znanstveni

Proceedings of the 4th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, Vol. 8. Higher education and citizenship, participation and democracy / - , 2008

4th INTERNATIONAL BARCELONA CONFERENCE ON HIGHER EDUCATION Higher Education: New challenges and emerging roles for Human and Social Development

Mjesto i datum
Barcelona, Španjolska, 31.03.-02.04.2008.

Vrsta sudjelovanja

Vrsta recenzije
Međunarodna recenzija

Ključne riječi
University civic mission; socially responsible university community; students' participation; civic engagement; education for active citizenship

The social context in Croatia in which universities operate shows two dominant trends. Market orientation is being promoted as a response to globalization processes. Growing resistance and concern about this tendency brought initiatives to strengthen civil engagement in higher education. Since academic knowledge is increasingly expected to be based on real life circumstances and connected to practice, the need to strengthen civic engagement, social responsibility and active citizenship at universities is further stimulated. Requests are being made to bring university instructors and practitioners into closer relationships, expecting academic knowledge to directly improve living conditions in local communities and affect democracy and civil society development (Ostrander, 2004). Students should acquire knowledge, develop skills and opinions through active participation, which in turn develops their sense of active involvement in making political decisions and controlling its implementations. Many authors agree how active citizenship is the ideal contemporary society should aspire to (T.H.McLaughlin, D. Miller, C.Wilkins, R.Griffith, D. Heather, K. Faulks). The purpose of university’ s civic mission is to enable the development of this ideal. Recent research studies on civil society in Croatia reveal numerous challenges. In the report on CIVICUS Index on Civil Society in Croatia (2003-2005) authors state a weak concern for social problems testifying that citizens do not feel obligated and responsible for solving problems in their communities. Furthermore, the concept of civic engagement is not a part of educational programs and Croatian socio-cultural background is more inclined to encourage passivity than inventiveness and confidence in citizens. The results show a need for permanent strengthening of civic engagement with social and community problems in Croatia. It is reasonable and justified to expect of universities to take the responsibility to become the leaders of social change. Civic engagement and social responsibility of universities have not yet succeded to stimulate considerable interest in the Croatian academic community, so the “ holy trinity” of university mission (Checkoway, 2001) – research, teaching and community service – is still not the focus of interest. Data on civic engagement efforts at universities are scarce. Nevertheless, experience and analyses of current priorities show that Croatian universities support research and teaching, while they usually disregard community service. The research project “ University and its external environment in the context of European integration processes” , conducted at University of Rijeka, examines, among other things, the state of engagement of Croatian universities in the civic mission. University civic mission is understood as efforts of the academic community conducted through research, teaching and active involvement of its members in the community, and directed towards improving the quality of life in the community and educating active and socially responsible citizens (Ledić, 2007). Our research includes the analysis of prerequisites for establishing civic engagement at Croatian universities on following levels: (I) Legal acts, (II) Teaching, (III) Research, (IV) Community service and (V) Governance. Our standpoint is that the academic community needs to actively contribute to the quality of community life and encourage education of active and socially responsible citizens through its regular academic activities which, in turn, contribute to participation and development of democratic processes in society. The analysis of legal acts (Law on Higher Education, university and faculty statutes) indicates insufficient usage of given legislation. Legal (statutory) regulations which recommend governance participation of both professors and students are often not in agreement with reality and current practice (Ledić, 2007). According to laws and other documents, higher education is based on “ interactions with social community” and “ higher education institutions are obligated to develop social responsibility in students and other members of the academic and scientific community” (Article 2), emphasizing how “ university achieves its purposes in accordance with the needs of its local community” (Article 3). We analyzed faculty statutes on the basis of three main indicators: contribution to community development, active citizenship and social responsibility. All three indicators were analyzed through four sub-indicators: teaching, research, community service and governance. It is to no surprise that the formulations found in the 24 analyzed statutes of all seven Croatian universities are in accordance with principles proclaimed in the law. However, the following findings emerged: (I) The general absence of university mission statements, (II) Analyzed statutes and their acts indicate a similarity in their formulation, (III) The role of university in improving community life have been stated in all statutes but only as a mere phrase. In the second phase of the project we examined student attitudes about university (civic) mission. The analysis included the level of student participation in implementing the principles of civic engagement. The sample in this pilot-research consisted of 192 students from all ten schools at the University of Rijeka. A questionnaire surveyed students’ experiences and attitudes on important aspects of university activities including research, teaching, community service and governance. Characteristics such as gender, achievement and membership in (student) organizations have not proven relevant, while statistically significant differences are seen across different schools. For example, students at the Faculty of Medicine have far more experience in participating in scientific projects and, in relation to other students, they rate these projects as having a positive impact on identified community problems and needs. On the other hand, humanities students evaluate their own institutions in terms of teaching quality and consider that teaching affects the acquisition of knowledge and skills for active citizenship, social responsibility, civic rights and commitments. One of the important preliminary results indicates a low level of student participation in core academic activities, especially research (M=1.6). Bearing in mind that participation is considered a basis for the development of democracy, it becomes evident how students do not have (enough) possibilities to acquire (and practice) participation skills. It is of significance to state the division of student opinions in relation to university role. Even though they recognize the importance of university social responsibility and see the need to encourage student participation in all academic activities, they still predominantly believe that the role of higher education is primarily to provide opportunities for acquiring expert knowledge and qualifications for the labor market. Students notice lack of dedication of university civic mission through teaching as well. Only a small number of university courses include service learning (M=2.1), or offer extracurricular activities which promote the values of active citizenship. A positive aspect in this context is finding that students notice a motivational potential of their active engagement in community through various projects and curricular activities (M=4.3). This led us to conclude that universities in Croatia should develop and promote mechanism with the purpose of encouraging and strengthening student participation processes in core academic activities. This brief overview of the pilot-research results indicates that Croatian universities need to undergo a complex and difficult process of strengthening the academic community to promote civic engagement. Our research raises more questions than it provides answers, but certainly represents an important step in analyzing present processes which promote civic engagement and social responsibility at universities. Future research activities will include analyzing the curricula of Croatian universities and examining experiences and attitudes of university professors to determine to what extent is their civic engagement encouraged through adequate organizational culture and if they are inclined to encourage civic engagement in students.

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Znanstvena područja


Projekt / tema
009-0000000-0931 - Sveučilište i vanjsko okruženje u kontekstu europskih integracijskih procesa (Jasminka Ledić, )

Filozofski fakultet, Rijeka