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Interview with Prof. Marian Preda, new President of the CIVIS alliance

6 October 2020
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"The alliance is now a functional body with eight hearts"

As of 1 October 2020, Marian Preda, professor of sociology and Rector of the University of Bucharest is the new president of the CIVIS alliance. Professor Preda succeeds Prof. Astrid Soderbergh Widding from Stockholm University. Taking up the presidency at a time when the pandemic has settled in and changed the way we deliver education, Professor Preda plans to use the next six months to enhance the alliance’s strength and cohesion in the new pandemic scenario, with an emphasis on creating new solutions for virtual mobilities and virtual educational experiences within the consortium.

Please introduce yourself to our community

I have been elected Rector of The University of Bucharest in December 2019. I am a sociologist, the former Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work and former President of the Academic Senate of the University.   I have been teaching sociology of organizations, social policy and strategic management for the last 25 years at the University of Bucharest. Before that I was a researcher for 5 years and an engineer for 1 year.  I have a BA in sociology, a BA in engineering, an MA in social policy, an executive MBA and a PhD in sociology. So, as you can see, in a way I have combined and applied my expertise in teaching and in administration inside the University of Bucharest for the last 20 years.  

As the Rector of my University I am glad and honored to take up the rotative presidency of the CIVIS alliance for the next six months, and work, together with our colleagues from the University of Bucharest and the colleagues from the other seven universities members of CIVIS, our prestigious European academic consortium, in order to strengthen and make more sustainable what has already been achieved and what CIVIS is all about.

How do you see the CIVIS alliance during these times of COVID-19 pandemic?

I see it as it was always meant to be: an extraordinary alliance created as a medium of inclusiveness and high quality in education. A body that brings together eight universities from eight European countries, all leading research institutions and extremely valuable educational organizations in their respective countries. A consortium where we can use our different experiences and backgrounds in order to truly be innovative and strive to build programs and action plans that help create for our students, teachers and researchers the European University we all dream of.

During this pandemic, inside CIVIS, we rediscovered how similar our personal, institutional and national experiences have been, and realized that some problems are universal and that solutions that are viable for the entire consortium can only happen if we intensify our collaboration and create together projects that are adapted to the new reality of our world. For example, the University of Bucharest hosted this September an event dedicated to Virtual Mobilities. It was meant to create a framework for organizing and implementing the CIVIS virtual mobility programs and proved once again that CIVIS is an alliance which is keen to ensure teaching excellence and scientific development.

What do you think are the accomplishments of the CIVIS alliance after the first year of existence?

It has been almost three years since the alliance was established and one year since the project started. I think the most important accomplishment should be considered the creation of a functional alliance which now works and lives as a body with eight hearts, but, nonetheless, a functional, breathing single body. The new ambitious European Higher Education initiative has been implemented within our consortium and is now proving that it is possible to create a civic multi-national university. Our governing bodies and our project leaders in each university, our working groups and the members of our communities have closely collaborated during this first year and the results are projects and programs that come together and will bring something new to the educational life within the European Union.

I am also glad to see that the consultative and participative bodies of CIVIS (the Global Participative Council, the Global Consultative Council and the Student Council) that involve students and other stakeholders from local communities have been established and are becoming active.

We have implemented common communicational tools (such as the CIVIS newsletter that brings together information from all eight universities), created hubs of education and research such as the Open Labs projects and so much more. And we still plan so many actions that will bring us together closer to our goal of reaching excellence in a European University.

Talking of plans, what are the milestones envisioned for the next six months?

We are already preparing a lot of things inside our alliance. For example, we are going to host our very first Global CIVIS Days event which will take place virtually on 10 November 2020, and will focus on Sustainability. The preparations for this event are completed. It will involve teachers, researchers, students, staff, and partners from all the universities in the consortium. The idea behind this event is to generate a strong local dynamism around themes that we believe to be crucial to our development as societies. We want this event to focus on the interactions of the Alliance with the cities and the regions, and most importantly with the new European context.

This is just an example, but during the next six months all our working groups will continue their efforts to adapt the original plans of CIVIS to the new reality, and this will definitely mean a shift towards virtual education. Luckily, the University of Bucharest is the one that coordinates the working package dedicated to Teaching Excellence and that means that our presidency will focus on bringing solutions and implementing new strategies that can help us all keep our standards even when facing troublesome times and unexpected enemies like the COVID-19 pandemic.

So the main objective will be to ensure continuity and support for the already approved projects and initiatives. What I would be glad to add during the next 6 months is a debate and maybe some concrete initiatives along two lines of action: moving our cooperation to the grass roots level by developing sub-networks directly between similar departments and faculties in the consortium and creating a system of indicators and targets to help us in strategic planning and especially in monitoring our activities and evaluating our results. So, on the one hand I think our students, teachers and researchers from similar academic fields must be connected and helped to communicate and work together and, on the other hand, I would like to see a clear set of indicators that will help us to measure where we are now, to plan where we intend to go and to monitor our achievements. If we discuss and plan to increase mobilities, to do research and to publish together, then we need to be able to measure all those objectives. But, again, let us first start a debate and then decide together on the best way to make things happen.

What do you think CIVIS means for your University after this year?

It definitely means a great opportunity, but also a big responsibility. Despite the overall economic differences between our countries that we are aware of, we know that Bucharest, with its metropolitan area has now, in 2020, a GDP/capita at PPS that is 144% of the EU average. We are, therefore, confident that our students in Bucharest and our teachers and researchers as well as our regional, historical and cultural experiences bring a valuable contribution to the diversity and competitive advantages of CIVIS.  Anyway, we are committed to do our best in order to achieve this standard of excellence in education and research that is not only our goal in the University of Bucharest, but also a key component of the European University concept.

Our staff and students are excited to be part of this project and we believe that we can be an asset for the alliance just as much as the alliance is a great asset for our university.  We enjoy the new possibilities CIVIS offers and are extremely satisfied with the way collaboration inside the alliance proves to bring out the best in all of us. It enhances our strengths as individual entities and helps us create new platforms, tools and programs that were not possible on a national level. In my opinion, beyond the high quality of individuals and local teams, the main competitive advantage of CIVIS stands in our huge diversity due to the geographical and cultural coverage of the European area and in our excellent cooperation that provides us with a real unity in diversity. And we are proud and glad to be part of that, to be part of CIVIS.