Des universités libres, à quel prix ?

WARWICK, RU – Les universités peuvent-elles se permettre de rester libre par temps de crise économique ? Tel était l’un des sujets débattus en ce début d’année lors de la ratification annuelle de la Magna Charta Universitatum à l’universtié de Bologne, la mère des universités.

Cette charte est la déclaration de principe visant à promouvoir et à protéger l’autonomie des universités la plus connue au monde. Ces vingt dernières années, près de 700 établissements d’enseignement supérieur de tous les continents l’ont signée. Pourtant, une idée reçue persiste, celle que les universités sont un luxe à l’heure où le peuple a du mal à joindre les deux bouts.

Il y a toujours eu des raisons de s’en inquiéter. Dans le passé, les universités ont été fondées en période d’abondance, en général pour encourager la population à voir plus loin que leurs besoins de survie immédiats, à aspirer à des objectifs spirituels ou nationaux. Il y a quelque 50 ans, un historien des sciences qui s’intéressait aux statistiques, Derek de Solla Price, a remarqué que la consommation énergétique par tête d’une nation était un excellent indice de la production de recherche universitaire : leur croissance va de pair.

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