News and Events

2014-11-25 00:00:02

Eva Egron-Polak's Address at Awards Ceremony Nov. 25th

evatalks Nov. 25th, 2014, International Association of Universities (IAU) Secretary General and Executive Director Eva Egron-Polak was awarded an Honorary Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) Doctorate. She said she was "touched and honoured" by the award.

Her address at the Awards Ceremony:

Rector Pumputis, Professor Pakalniškis, Chair of the Senate, Mr Varkulevičius Chair of the University Council, Vice Rectors Giedrius Villiūnas and Inga Žalėnienė, dear Faculty Members, dear Students,

I am very honoured and touched by this decision of Mykolas Romeris University to award the Doctorat honoris causa to me. I have spent my entire professional life working in higher education and know the value of this honour.

Also, having served, in Canada, on a university Senate Committee which made recommendations, concerning the individuals who would be considered for the Doctor honoris causa, I also know that this honour is never given lightly by a university.

So first of all, thank you very much for granting it to me.

I know that I join a list of illustrious individuals who have been so honoured by Mykolas Romeris University in the past, and I am truly humbled to be among them.

Those that I know personally, Prof Goolam Mohamedbhai, Prof. Juan Ramon de la Fuente and Prof. Dzulkifli Abdul Razak are all highly dedicated individuals, who each, iri his own region of the world, worked and continue to work for the improvement of higher education not only in their own institutions in Mauritius, Mexico and Malaysia, but internationally as well, since they all served as presidents of the IAU.

They were all, as well, my bosses and I enjoyed working with each of them tremendously and in fact I was in Japan with two of them 10 days ago and will see Prof. Mohamedbhai tomorrow again in Paris.

So in addition to being very grateful to the Senate of MRU for deciding to give this Doctorat honoris causa to me, I am also very touched and proud to receive it, given the high standards of this university.

I also believe that I am the first woman to receive it, which makes me even more proud. But, I will feel very lonesome in this group of one, so I encourage the Senate to recognize the achievements of more women in the future.

Neither of my parents had been able to attend university. They were two young people whose lives were disrupted by the Holocaust.

After the war, they were locked behind the Iron Curtain in communist Czechoslovakia for nearly 20 years, before taking the incredibly courageous decision in 1968 to leave everything familiar behind them and take my brother and me to Canada.

They both deeply regretted their missed opportunity to study, and encouraged me to do so. They also lived their new-found freedom to the fullest by travelling as much as they could and by instilling in me a curiosity about, and an appreciation for foreign lands, languages and customs, for learning about different cultures.

I did not actually plan to work in higher education, though I always wanted to find a career that promoted international collaboration.

It seems I have that in common with Mykolas Romeris, who not only studied in Russia, Poland and Paris, but was also committed to international cooperation.

Initially, I had hoped to become a diplomat. But, a summer job, just after I completed my first degree, working for a small office just created by a retired University president changed the trajectory of my career. The office was established to promote international development cooperation among universities in Canada and those in developing countries. I became passionately interested in building bridges between academics in different parts of the world and I have remained devoted to this field ever since.

In different ways, I have had the privilege of combining my wish to promote international collaboration with my respect and admiration for those who work in higher education to push the frontiers of knowledge through research, who share and disseminate their discoveries to others through teaching and who apply their knowledge to solve local and global problems through outreach and service to the community.

In short, I am very happy to work with universities from around the world.

The pursuit of knowledge is a very noble cause and the IAU Constitution argues that the freedom to pursue knowledge and truth no matter where this process leads should be protected at all costs.

Institutional autonomy and academic freedom are the cornerstones of the IAU value system.

Today, we live in an era of the Knowledge Society or Knowledge Economy, making knowledge an even more precious and strategic resource; making universities a central actor in any society.

Higher education institutions are not only critically important today, they are perhaps more complex and more difficult to lead and to manage than in previous times.

The expectations of what universities should achieve are numerous and at times competing with one another.

Higher Education is expected to:

* demonstrate quality and relevance of its offer,
* contribute to national competitiveness, ensure employability,
* advance knowledge and solve global challenges, real world problems,
* offer equitable access and ensure success of all learners,
* be innovative, engage in technology transfer, link with industry
* anticipate and offer unbiased critique of current developments,
* demonstrate social responsibility, locally and globally
* prepare graduates to be culturally sensitive global citizens
* serve the public good, but for decreasing amounts of public funding,
* play a central role in building a sustainable future for society and the fragile planet on which we live.

So knowledge and education are a precious and unlimited resource. However, knowledge is also power, and it can easily be or become an instrument of exclusion, of dominance, of inequality especially in a world where economic development remains so uneven.

Universities, in some respects, have a choice to make whether they become part of the process of maintaining, or even increasing these gaps between peoples and countries, or on the contrary, whether they serve to narrow these gaps to contribute to sustainable and equitable development at home and internationally.

For the past twelve years at the IAU, and in my previous positions in Canada as well, I have always worked hard to raise awareness and to convince others, especially academic leaders, that we must make the second choice by promoting international collaboration among universities, by building equitable partnerships, by co-creation of new knowledge, by equal sharing of benefits and above all by the improvement of the quality of education and opportunities that are offered to all students.

These goals are very often part of the policy rhetoric, but often they can fail to be part of the practice.

These are the principles under which IAU operates and I believe that it is these principles and values that have also attracted the leadership of Mykolas Romeris University to engage so fully with IAU over the past decade.

Rector Pumputis served as an active member of the IAU Board for several years. During this time and ever since, he both contributed to the development of the IAU and enabled MRU to benefit from the work of the Association. I believe this has been a truly mutually beneficial relationship with collaboration in a number of areas-including internationalization, of course, and ethics.

It was both an incredible privilege and a pleasure for the IAU to hold its 2010 international conference here in Vilnius and to see the results of that conference now, in the form of a set of internationally approved guidelines for Institutional Codes of Ethics in higher education institutions, which are being used and discussed in many parts of the world.

It is also wonderful to continuously learn about MRU initiatives and innovations in research. For example on social innovation, which is a topic IAU will explore next year with other university associations, in joint study programs, such as those developed with Middlesex University in the United Kingdom and Dongseo University in South Korea among others and in other areas.

Ideally, the pursuit of knowledge, a university's mission, is about continuous improvement - improvements that benefit society, self-improvement of individuals, but also institutional improvement.

In my view, MRU exemplifies this commitment to institutional self-improvement by undertaking various evaluations including those by the EUA or working with IAU on the review and strengthening of the internationalization strategy.

MRU seems often to be the first in Lithuania to adopt change, including in its governance structure, as I believe it was the first university in this country to create a university council. This is not always easy.

Change can be intrinsically threatening both within the university and in the broader higher education system. Change also requires risk taking and exposing oneself and one's institution to criticism and, of course to failure.

Yet, a university that does not change, will not survive, and in the world where competition appears to dominate all relationships, not surviving is a real possibility.

It seems to me that MRU has not failed frequently and if it has done so, it has used the experience in a way that has been positive.

Student numbers are increasing, the leadership team remains stable and active-always a positive sign, and new avenues of research are being pursued all the time.

These and many other reasons are why I am so truly touched and proud to be honoured by a University that continuously seeks knowledge and know-how to improve how it serves society locally in Lithuania but also abroad by educating international students and Lithuanian students in ways that will make them responsible, global citizens who will contribute to shaping the kind of future we all want.

Thank you for making me part of the Mykolas Romeris University academic community and family.