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Centenary of Icelandic Independence and Sovereignty

University of Iceland Aula, 7–8 September 2018

Conference on the value of universities for Icelandic society and industry in the past and the future

The University of Iceland received a grant from the state centenary committee, who are responsible for official celebrations of the centenary, in order to hold an international conference on the value of universities for Icelandic society and industry in the past and the future. The primary goal is to shed light on the impact that education and research have on the development of society, not least the ways in which the education system and research work can be used to promote continuing economic prosperity and a thriving society, thereby strengthening Iceland as an independent democratic state in the 21st century. The conference planning committee decided to divide the event into two sections. . Emphasis is placed on critical discussion of the role and future of universities – in particular the University of Iceland – and the role universities play in shaping society through teaching and research.

  1. Universities and sovereignty

This will be a discussion of the role of universities in strengthening sovereignty in democratic­ states, in particular the way in which the University of Iceland has contributed to the development of the Icelandic nation. Possible topics for consideration include: What role did the University of Iceland play in the establishment of Iceland as a sovereign state? How can universities support the adaptation of Icelandic culture and language to the rapid technological changes of modern society, thereby maintaining­ the cultural sovereignty of the nation? How can universities promote higher levels of equality in society and thereby enable as many people as possible to actively participate? What role have institutions such as the University of Iceland played in strengthening Icelandic industry and ensuring the future competitiveness of the country?

  1. The University of Iceland and the democracy of science

The role of universities has long been twofold; on the one hand they are forums for scientific research, which is unconstrained by national borders, and on the other hand they serve the specific society in which they are located. The first rector of the University of Iceland, Björn M. Ólsen, discussed the University's responsibilities in an address at the founding ceremony on 17 June 1911. He spoke of universities as "national schools", on the one hand, and as citizens of the "democracy of ­science" on the other. Universities are "cosmopolitan institutions at the same time as they are national institutions", as he put it. In recent years, significant emphasis has been placed on the links between the University of Iceland and the rest of the world and the importance of international rankings. This raises the ­question of whether the idea of the "national school" is simply no longer valid in this age of globalisation, since it impedes the University's attempts to establish itself as an international research­ university.

  1. The University of the future

Universities now stand at a crossroads, regarding both teaching methods and organisation. Traditionally the university was (at least in theory) a community of teachers and students, combining research and learning, and students were in daily contact both with their teachers and each other. Will the university of the future be completely different? Will higher education shift from traditional institutions to large international corporations offering university studies primarily through distance learning? How can we anticipate the impact that the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' will have on the way universities operate?

  1. Universities and innovation

Innovation is a key concept in contemporary (Icelandic) politics, but its meaning can be unclear and people understand the word in different ways. The question is, therefore, what is meant by 'innovation', and how can universities – and the education system as a whole – support more diverse and dynamic innovation in society?

Following the conference, we intend to publish a book, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, of articles based on lectures given at the conference.