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“The University of the 21st Century” and the COVID-19 Test

cover of Yehuda Elkana's book
Thursday, November 19, 2020, 4:00 pm – Friday, November 20, 2020, 5:30 pm

 “The University of the 21st Century” and the COVID-19 Test

Online Symposium

November 19 - 20, 2020

4:00 – 5:30 pm CET

This on-line symposium is now organized within the framework of OSUN (the Open Society University Network) and it is the fifth in a series of events on higher education inspired by the legacy of Yehuda Elkana, former President and Rector of CEU.

The series included a workshop at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin (From Local Universalism to Global Contextualism, September 2013), a workshop organized by the Volkswagen Foundation in Hannover (What is Intellectual Quality in the Humanities?, September 2014), a third event in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in September 2015 (Curricula and Humanistic Scholarship: Between Tacit Knowledge and Public Discourse) and a conference organized at CEU Budapest in September 2016 (The Metamorphosis of University Governance at the Beginning of the 21st Century) that also included a Yehuda Elkana posthumous book launch (The University in the 21st century: Teaching the New Enlightenment at the Dawn of the Digital Age, co-authored with Hannes Klöpper).

The symposium proposes a reflection revisiting Yehuda Elkana and other thinkers’ vision about “the university of the 21st century” in light of the expected challenges of the post-COVID period.

The symposium will consist of two thematic sessions, each including an open discussion with the participants following from a debate among panelists from Europe, the US and Asia.

The event is open to public, registration is required.

 Symposium Program

Thursday, November 19, 2020


4:00 – 4:10 pm

Welcome greetings

Liviu Matei (Provost and Pro-Rector, Central European University; Director, Yehuda Elkana Center for Higher Education)


4:10 – 5:30 pm CET:

Panel I.


Invited participants:

  • Hannes Klöpper (founder and CEO of HelloBetter; CEO and Co-Founder of iversity): 

    Digital Learning's Sputnik Shock – from nice to have to conditio sine qua non

    Almost a decade ago Silicon Valley luminaries hailed the "MOOC-revolution". But, individual enthusiasts non-withstanding, it was met with no more than a shrug by most faculty members, policymakers and administrators. Rather than transforming higher education itself, online learning thus became a dynamic niche alongside traditional institutions of higher education. In recent months, the Covid-19 pandemic's challenge to the established model of higher education has highlighted the failure of most traditional institution to rethink with a sense of urgency their model of teaching and learning from the ground up. It is overdue that we reimagine the university in light of what is and what will be possible, desirable and necessary for students to succeed in our complex and messy world.


  • Wilhelm Krull (Founding, Director of The New Institute; former Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation): 

    COVID-19 and Beyond: How are Universities to Cope with an Uncertain Present and a Precarious Future? 

    During the current pandemic science and scholarship have attracted more public attention than ever before. In particular life scientists, but also social scientists and legal scholars became important sources of expert advice in developing effective strategies to cope with the respective crisis. The prominent role that some of these experts gained in public discourse also reminds us of the manifold responsibilities that researchers have for their work, their integrity and credibility as well as the consequences resulting from their findings and statements for the public at large.

    In view of an uncertain present and a precarious future it will be essential for universities as well as individual researchers to rethink and reconfigure prevailing modes of operation, in particular in overcoming the increasing trend towards the compartmentalization of knowledge production and traditional modes of dissemination.

  • Andrea Nanetti (Founding Director of the LIBER Lab at the School of Art, Design and Media of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore): 

    The Opportunities of Reloading the Matrix of Higher Education in a Post-Covid Scenario

    In 2020, Covid-19 disrupted the entire university ecosystem, worldwide. Even if teaching generated more discussion, research and administration were affected as well. The debate on face-to-face versus online and synchronous versus asynchronous shifted from theoretical dichotomies into hybrid practices. Students, faculty and staff faced the fact that not all their ordinary tasks can be efficiently accomplished only on campus. Experiential and bookish acquisition of knowledge has always coexisted in learning since Plato and Aristotle taught their disciples in gardens and transmitted their legacy in books. Now that Pandora’s box has been reopened, before closing it again after Covid-19, we may want to let hope come out this time and reload the matrix of higher education with a balanced and sustainable mix of what can be done better online and what can be done better gathering together.


Friday, November 20, 2020 


4:00 – 5:30 pm CET:

Panel II.


Invited participants:

  • Raghavendra Gadagkar (Professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore): 

    Let's Put Students in the Driver's Seat

    I will argue that the University in the 21st Century needs an overhaul, and not only because of Covid. Focusing on teaching, I will suggest that we should put students in the driver's seat of education and replace teaching with learning. I will briefly explain why I think we should do so and illustrate my talk with at least one way of achieving such a goal.

  • Rivka Feldhay (Professor, Tel Aviv University): 

    Relevant Knowledge in Post-Korona Days

    Surprise! Surprise! Israeli newspapers report a 30% increase in the numbers of students’ registration to universities this coming year.

    What kind of knowledge could be relevant for their academic training and for enriching their life experience in post Corona age? And how would technology-informed teaching complement – or even, if the worse comes to the worst, replace traditional lectures, seminars, and hot Cafeteria debates in the humanities? Division into small discussion groups and focusing teaching on second order thinking about knowledge and its significance, thus connecting contents to critical reflection will be the main arguments dealt with in this short talk.

  • Catharine R. Stimpson (University Professor, Dean Emerita of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University): 

    The Post-Covid University as an 'Intellectual Experiment Station'

    The survivors of the "Black Death," the plague of the 14th-century, could and did not predict what would happen to the universities scattered in their midst.  Nor can we predict with certainty what will happen to the universities omnipresent in our midst, especially under post-covid economic pressures. As a result, teachers must both band together and experiment.  Obviously, one set of experiments will be with on-line or remote learning. I have learned from ZOOMing this fall. But, another experiment should be with far more interdisciplinary teaching, e.g. humanists learning science and public health. I also call for one stability: understanding teaching as an equilateral triangle of teacher, student, and curriculum - no matter what the delivery platform.