Quo Vadis?
2013-06-21 | Text: Alexander Kovriga | Photo ©: | 3984


Universities have been natural incubators of the future for many centuries, creating new centers of knowledge and skills, spread the new outlook. I think that forecasting and thinking of the future are believed to be intellectually non-innocuous. But I am very concerned that in complicating and interconnecting world people engaged in forecasting see only profit in the future. They manipulate the consciousness regarding the understanding of the future supposed to be, call it a strategy, trying to ensure the dominance of certain ideologies. Such forecasting is focused upon the actual privatization of the future to exploit it for personal benefits. I believe that the main task of the university is to resist these attempts. The future of the world is extremely dependent on the university community and on strategies of their development.

The higher education system in general, the types of thinking and creativity changed quickly today. We are responsible for ensuring that the university was able to respond to modern challenges and to contribute to the development of the humanity. Now it can be captured by complex and powerful forces exceeding their ability to control. Being out of control, they may extinct.

Catastrophes at the human fault show us that the old paradigm of the world order are out of date and may result in more catastrophes. Chernobyl, the world financial crisis, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Fukushima... Each new crisis resulted in a huge number of attempts to neutralize those threats, but no guarantee to avoid threats.

All this is observed, because humanity is not as free as it seems to determine the own way of development. We limited our own freedom of choice, being hostage of stereotypes and simple ideologies including "market relation» idea. The irresponsibility for the environment and a lack of objectivity infected all levels of institutions, states, corporations and, of course, media. This was the main reason of delayed reaction to new, man-made threats.

Once I watched this problem from unexpected side enough. I was a good student, till I started to ask questions. Studying architecture and town planning, I naively believed that architects have fundamental theoretical knowledge and skills on creation of new cities, and of the best styles, ways of life. Unsatisfied, after four years of study, in 1981, I went to Moscow to meet with the country's leading urban planners. There, the Central Scientific-Research and Design Institute of Urban Development (TsNIIPGrado), I participated in the design of the new "Tractor City" for 500,000 residents. Although this unique investment project was vain attempt and was not implemented, it helped me to understand that there was no possibility at that time to predict with scientific accuracy all consequences and results of a huge number of policy and investment decisions to be made. It made me re-evaluate my whole approach and my world outlook. The question arose if humanity is able to control the own futures? Can we rely solely on quantitative knowledge and technical expertise?

In the early 80's I joint a radical group of Moscow intellectuals involved into scientific and methodological research and development of new types of social control. We spent over one hundred sessions with leading professionals, modeling the most difficult subjects at the main intellectual centers in the country. We were ahead of the perestroika for several years, but our ambitions were even bigger. We saw our task in preparation of new type professionals, able to develop and to implement new technologies, to trigger the social development and social and economic progress.

It was called on the bureaucratic slang "Program of the Scientific and Technical Progress Intensification and Acceleration". To create an experimental system of specialists’ preparation to lead the country transformation, Minister of Education of the USSR chose four universities - Moscow National University of Science and Technology MISIS, Minsk Polytechnic Institute, Riga Polytechnic Institute and Kharkiv Institute of Engineers of Public Utilities. After post-graduation in 1985, I was assigned to Kharkov to participate in this project, and then to lead it.

We got carte blanche to create a new system to prepare managers. We excluded the traditional highly specialized disciplines and taught by a "professionalization program" instead - game sessions, case studies and simulations of actual processes (including global crises). The main task for student yearly essays and, further, graduation theses was the solution of problem professional situations.

Despite we received high grades, diplomas and awards from the Ministry of Education, when the neo-liberal reforms appeared in the country, financial support stopped for the pilot projects. Most graduates of our project failed to find a good job and immigrated to Moscow or to the West.


This experience clearly demonstrated that to ensure success of educational innovations, they should provide the students’ competence, a possibility to include them in the industrial and economic practice. In order to take part in these experiments, students and professors should receive systemic and long-term support.

The next stage of my education was working as the Head of the Department of Education and Science at the Administration of the President of Ukraine in six months after so-called "Orange Revolution" in 2004. I proposed initiatives to increase the role of the humanities and culture at every level of the educational process to create a "learning country". Although my projects and initiatives were met positively, finally, they were limited by a new worldview spread in the country. Each initiative was seen primarily in terms of ability to bring a quick profit.

Creation of the independent, truly national educational policy is impossible in a poor country. During my time at the President Office, the World Bank and the Open Society Institute of George Soros were main players in the Ukrainian educational establishment. Each had his own agenda, and Ukrainian identity and a role universities could play in the country formation was not taken into account. In three years of working at the President Administration, I learned a hard lesson on huge country dependence on global politics and global markets.

But is it possible national policy without long-term strategies and goals of the country development? What the point to have a nation?

These questions made me reflect on the role of the University.

In my opinion, the recent financial crisis derived from the long-term crisis of Western civilization. Discussion and work with long-term crisis requires for a new university concept and university education, which would allow to go beyond the liberal project of the enlightenment, stimulated the only option for the humanity development and developed according to the north-west "corner" of Eurasia at the cost of forgetting the rest of the cultural history and human experience. Therefore, to overcome the crisis of Western civilization is closely associated with overcoming the idea of ​​the "end of history" and "civilization conflict" and their replacement with a sophisticated understanding of the world history and world civilization and our modest role in it. This will require for a qualitatively new type of education seeking for storing, not changing of the fundamental values ​​of civilizations different from ours.

My initial point in this movement was Vladimir Vernadsky’s papers. According to them, the humanity awareness of connection with the geosphere, and then, the biosphere will lead people to understand the interrelatedness of all human knowledge and human world transformation activity. He named this universal phenomenon after Teilhard de Chardin "noosphere". Vernadsky foresaw that the "noosphere" eventually appears as a giant creative power able to act in planetary scale. Russian cosmologists have developed this idea: if humanity is a creative force, it must have consequences outside of our planet. Russian philosopher Evald Ilyenkov said about it so poetically: "The task of humanity is to ignite another sun in the universe." To prevent the Earth destruction, mankind should accept its potential as a cosmic factor, and send new knowledge in this direction.

If we begin to realize our planetary environment as a single organism, as Vernadsky called us to do, the university function will be a role of the brain and the circulation system, to develop key knowledge to be distributed through specific social institutions and commercial entities.

In the modern world, universities are the only organizations with sufficient autonomy from political and economic institutions, able to evaluate new forms of industrial and socio-cultural organization, new production and institutional organization systems, new employment types for long-term prospects and benefits of human development, not in the form of the quarterly financial report or the next election round.

However, the most urgent challenge to be solved - to formulate knowledge so that to allow us to understand the interdependency of our planet and to develop the mankind. It is a fundamental prerequisite of the emergence of the noosphere.

How could education look like for this humanity? First of all – to transfer to future generations the ideas and knowledge serving as the basis for our material and spiritual well-being. Second – the education should be designed so that to increase human abilities for self-transformation - personally, socially, institutionally and technologically. The education creates a "human capital" only if it is ahead of the existing model of activity and production, not merely reproduces what works. Moreover, universities should never forget that the true task is draw attention to the principal questions of human existence, not to be centers for teaching to ephemeral skills.


This will require for some reassessment and reintegration of the spiritual human heritage into the global education concept and a coordinated efforts to overcome disciplinary barriers and departmental structures hindering our ability to implement big ideas. One of these ideas, recently appeared in the international relations is the Dialogue of Civilizations.

Politically, since the Treaty of Westphalia, the nation have been formed specifically and existed as separate "containers", although their cultural, linguistic, religious and other "content" is often extended from the official national boundaries. It is clear that in the modern world we have to be focused more upon external relations and effects, rather than on the containers. Peoples are constituted assuming that the world in accordance with their vision allowing them to form their attitude toward others. Only on the basis of this worldview, they create own special "national" organization. This will require for new forms of cultural awareness and education.

The Dialogue of Civilizations project was formulated by the Austrian philosopher Hans Kechler and supported by world leaders and adopted at the 59th General Session of the United Nations in 2005. As for the noosphere development, dialogue between civilizations means a possibility of unification, community cooperation in joint work on general global tasks.

Finally, another important component of the noosphere development is the rethinking and restructuring of the market functions in education. The early 21st century is characterized by increased number of attempts to privatize traditional public goods and education as well. In the West, it a typical situation when education is considered as just another market commodity. Scientists sell the Enlightenment heritage, presenting themselves as custodians and creators of knowledge for the human benefit. Acting under "economic man" ideology they stand for free exchange of ideas in democratic society and claim that they are working to protect freedom of thought, including freedom to disagree with the existing orthodox views.

At the same time, from the neo-liberal point of view, it is hard to see a direct connection between these educational achievements and markets, because university education provides people with much greater knowledge than graduates used directly at the workplace. This university education redundancy is criticized by market ideology and called "waste". But it is not so, actually it is unused potential.

We'll have to turn this unused potential into something more socially significant and dynamic. Knowledge obtained in this way, but not used at the workplace, should be released creatively, so that it could become a source of new scientific and cultural achievements.

Nowadays, when students leave universities to join labor force, they usually consider the previous period as different from the rest of life. Instead of releasing the productive creativity during adult life, we have to find a way out for it in natural and most sensitive environment, where the intellectual curiosity was first illuminated, in alma mater.

It is paradoxical that the markets (and corporate requests) reducing university programs only to those training courses that are "commercially beneficent" and only to those skills that are "practical", thus effectively reduce the intellectual complexity, impede an ability of the University to provide conditions for development of creative solutions for social problems.

Thus, the current global crisis requires for an absolutely new approach to knowledge and radically different conceptualization of the university. In order to preserve the nature uniqueness and complexity, we have to know more about the world in general, it is opposed to our current attention on highly specialized and separated intelligent containers. As Julius Chariton, an academician, one of the founders of the Soviet atomic energy programs said: "We have to know much more than do.”

Perhaps providing for this task as a global mission, new practical sciences of human preservation will eventually replace the outdated approaches and self-destructing science of the Enlightenment.

The science of human preservation could formulate a vision of human activity, which would not have been focused upon a single human function - economic, artistic or intellectual - but harmony and balance among all the components of the person. It should serve as a basis for an active "dialogue" between the natural, human and social sciences, creating a new world view, required for the noosphere creation and development.

I believe that the University should take its historical mission and once again become the coordination center to create a new ontology, overcoming disciplinary barriers, intellectual limitations of the neo-liberal paradigm and egocentric features of the Enlightenment post-rationalism.

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