It is vital that our universities remain bastions of open and free thought

Delegates attend the Magna Charta Observatory of Fundamental Values and Rights conference, hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University, which discussed on values in practice.
Delegates attend the Magna Charta Observatory of Fundamental Values and Rights conference, hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University, which discussed on values in practice.
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Vice-Chancellors and senior representatives of universities from more than 20 countries gathered at Glasgow ­Caledonian University last month, for a two-day conference about the importance of values in driving organisational success.

The conference, entitled Fundamental and Institutional Values in Practice, was hosted in partnership with the internationally-influential Magna Charta Observatory of ­Fundamental Values and Rights. The MCO represents and promotes the values of openness, academic ­freedom, institutional autonomy and civic responsibility which are ­fundamental to the identity of any true university.

The Magna Charta Universitatum – a document enshrining the ­principles as the basis of good ­university ­governance – drew its first signatories on 18 September, 1988, the 900th anniversary of the University of Bologna, the world’s first university. Today, it has been signed by more than 800 universities from 85 ­countries.

University leaders came to Glasgow to share their experiences of embedding values – both the fundamental Magna Charta values and those which individual institutions have identified as core to their own ethos and character.

For Glasgow Caledonian University, its own organisational values – integrity, confidence, creativity and responsibility – are the foundations upon which we build our university community, pursue our research and teaching, and build collaborative relationships at home and ­internationally to deliver our social mission as the University for the Common Good.

During a time of rising extremism, political instability and ­economic challenges, it is more important than ever that universities everywhere uphold the Magna Charta principles.

Dr Sijbolt Noorda, President of the Magna Charta Observatory and president emeritus of the University of Amsterdam, spoke of the ­challenges for universities “in a world of individual interests and a lack of heartfelt unity”, where institutions’ autonomy and academic freedom could be attacked as a privilege rather than valued as an enabler for the ­common good.

It is vital that universities remain bastions of free thought; that we can continue freely to seek to understand how societies work and are governed, and help shape how they can be changed to secure the health, wellbeing and prosperity of all our citizens.

Keynote conference speaker ­Richard Sermon MBE, chairman of the City Values Forum and former Sheriff of the City of London, drew parallels with, and shared insights from, the financial sector, where he has been involved in a major project to embed institutional values in banks and other financial institutions. He said: “In a post-truth world, values matter more than ever before.”

In business, values matter because they affect revenue, ­reputation and resilience. The same can be said of values in higher education institutions.

At Glasgow Caledonian University, our values are the product of collaborative discussion around what we already do well and what we could improve upon.

Developed in ­partnership with students and staff, the GCU Behaviours are a set of ­statements which give expression to what the core values supporting our Common Good ­mission should mean in our daily lives. We want them to inform ­every aspect of life at this university – whether to attract people to study or work here who share our values; or to guide how staff and students learn, teach and research; or to provide a benchmark to help individuals ­evaluate their contribution and ­identify their achievements and developmental needs.

Across the ­university, people are working with their teams to ensure the values are reflected in teaching, research, employer engagement and student employability.

Drawing on evidence from a wide range of sectors, we know that ­organisations are more resilient when they have a clear mission and are characterised by values that ­everyone believes in.

Through shared values, organisations are able to cope with change, continue to stay positive and even grow when times are tough. In these turbulent times, our ­values will ­provide the solid foundation for our universities to remain strong, stable, open to ideas – and fearless to ­challenge them.

Professor Caroline Parker is GCU Values Project Lead.