He has travelled to a number of different countries where he has sought their experiences of developments in the field of higher education from distinguished ministers, rectors and professors.
“For my part, continuing my 24 years of working with the Council of Europe, over the past two years I have been involved in such diverse countries as Armenia, Andorra, Moldova, Montenegro, Kosovo, Hungary and of course here in Macedonia, while also talking to people from among the 50 countries represented at the Venice Commission, the European Commission for Democracy through Law, in its work on the difficult, and still unresolved, issue of the Central European University in Budapest”, said Prof. Farrington. According to him it is clear from all these conversations that there are two key issues to be debated in Macedonia and Kosovo as both countries review their strategies for higher education and the legal, financial and quality assurance foundations on which a successful system is built.
“If there is no change, of course, then it can only be a matter of time before either or both of two things happen: the best students leave the country to study, or international universities open regional centres themselves. What I am sure you all want to achieve is that students remain in the region, both during and after their studies. Otherwise, as we say in idiomatic English, our universities are like turkeys voting for Christmas (or Thanksgiving if you are from the United States). Setting aside political differences and concentrating on the future of your most precious asset, your children, is absolutely necessary”, noted Prof. Farrington.
He assesses that the first key issue is the relationship between higher education and the rapidly-changing world of work, which will see many classical jobs eliminated in the coming years. “The pace of change is unbelievably fast. For 50 years my father like many men of his generation sat dressed in suit and tie in an office performing calculations by mental arithmetic: when he retired in 1982 he was replaced by young men with long hair and flared trousers using early computers to achieve it all in minutes; now all his 50 years of effort could be repeated in milliseconds by robots. Most administrative functions involving humans will disappear; many already have. In the last few weeks my government has tweeted guides to everything citizens can now do on its websites. One of the latest, among how to obtain a passport, driving licence or other important documents, was a tweet about where to find the regulations for walking a pet pig. Not that I will have much use for those regulations but you get the point”, said Prof. Farrington.
He also said that now Universities have to cope with the demands of the real world. Some small initiatives can be taken within existing frameworks, such as the integrated degree programmes developed here through the generosity of the German government. “At least they prepare students for the real world as it now is. But a more fundamental review of the purposes of university education and how it equips young people for a very different life to that experienced by their parents and grandparents, who I’m sure did not spend much time walking pigs, is absolutely essential”, noted Prof. Farrington.