The importance of universities in shaping a more secure, progressive and prosperous world will be highlighted when the Times Higher Education (THE) holds its first world summit in Central and Eastern Europe.

The event, titled Building a hub for world-class research, hosted by Palacký University in the Czech Republic from 24-26 April 2018, will discuss, debate and discover the ambitious plans for universities in Central and Eastern Europe to turn the region into the next regional powerhouse for world-class research.

Zuzana Polanska, Head of the Strategy Support Unit at Palacký University in Olomouc, said: “I’ve had the pleasure of participating personally in several Times Higher Education summits held around the world and I’m really happy and proud that a THE summit will now take place in the Czech Republic.

Focus on research excellence

“It will be for the first time that an event of this kind is held in one of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

“The summit on research excellence gives us a unique opportunity to present and promote the region to our partners from different parts of the world and highlight the advanced infrastructure that we possess here in the Czech Republic, which allows us to carry out research of the highest quality.”

The programme and topics for the panel discussions will bring together high-level speakers representing different institutions from the region and speakers from the US, China, Japan and Western Europe to discuss the key issues for Central and Eastern European countries.

“These are not just related to research policy and the involvement of the speakers from outside the region will contribute to deeper discussions, thanks to their vision perceived from outside,” said Zuzana.

New Europe university ranking

The summit will also see the launch of a new Times Higher Education ranking of research-intensive universities in what it calls New Europe – the 13 member states that have joined the European Union since 2004.

The event comes at an interesting moment for the region, which has seen the share of national votes for populist parties soar in recent years. In the Czech Republic this saw the incumbent, Miloš Zeman, a staunch immigration critic, beat his pro-EU rival Jiří Drahoš with 51.4 per cent of the vote in the recent presidential elections.

The defeated candidate Drahoš, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, will be among the speakers at the summit. See more about the summit and the full programme here.

Despite the rising tide of nationalism sweeping the Czech Republic and its close neighbours, Poland and Hungary, Palacký University’s Rector, Jaroslav Miller, said his institution is determined to press ahead with its mission of being open to the world and he expects to attract more international partnerships and scientists from abroad by hosting the summit.

He said: “While anti-immigration rhetoric and anti-EU sentiments played a key part in last year’s presidential elections, Palacký University will continue its role as a liberal centre for learning and research and will welcome scholars from all over the world.”

Professor Miller is an alumnus of the Central European University in Budapest (CEU), which has clashed repeatedly with  Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government in Hungary over the operations of overseas universities in the country.

Popularist and anti-EU movements are also growing in a number of neighbouring countries, including Poland.

Phil Baty, Editorial Director of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, told EUPRIO News: “At a time of immense global challenge and conflict, investment in Higher Education isn’t a ‘noble option’ – it’s a strategic imperative. Universities are central to shaping a more secure, progressive and prosperous world – and their internationalist values provide possibly the best response to the rise of isolationism and right-wing populism across Europe.

“But – they’re also at risk from it, and this summit, 50 years on from the Prague Spring, offers an important opportunity to convene in the Czech Republic and explore these issues, and of course much more.”

+ ALSO READ my interview with Jaroslav Miller, the rector of Palacký University, headlined ‘Open to the World’ in which he expounds his hope and ambition to turn Central Europe into the next international research hub. It is the introduction to a special supplement produced by Times Education Higher for their New Europe 2018 Research Excellence Summit.