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All views expressed in these articles are the writers’ own and do not represent NovUM’s official or unofficial position.
Technology and Governance
As technology changes, so are the ways countries are governed. In recent years, we can observe how, both, democracies and autocracies have started to embrace this new way of government. At the global forefront of this shift lay both Taiwan and China as they stand as two great examples of how these technologies are used on a day-to-day basis. This phenomenon is also taking traction in the EU where countries such as Estonia are leading the way in this new way of governing, aptly named: e-Governance. This article aims, through the example of Taiwan, to give a brief overview of how technology can be used as an efficient tool of governance and maybe even a bridge between the divide of citizen and government, thus leading to further citizen participation.
When looking at Taiwan’s attitude towards technology in government, the small island nation has taken a more inclusive approach to the question of governance. In a recent interview on the podcast ‘Your Undivided Attention’, hosted by Tristan Harris, Taiwan’s Digital Minister, Audrey Tang goes into detail on how the government has successfully implemented a ‘online town hall’ called vTaiwan. Tang, explains how vTaiwan consists of an “online-offline consultation process” that brings together the government, stakeholders, experts and citizens to solve and work through problems. More precisely, the process can be described as ‘direct democracy in four stages’ as it is divided into four phases and is built in a way to maximise government efficiency and transparency.
Briefly, the four phases consist of (1) Proposal, (2) Opinion, (3) Reflection, (4) Legislation, similar to the legislative process we see in modern parliaments. Although, what differentiates this system from any other is that the transition between stages happens by consensus and thus does not put any stress on stakeholders and citizens alike. Tang, explains how this, in turn, leads to more meaningful conversations and, ultimately, deliberations. What also sets this process apart from any other is that the whole process is livestreamed and users can contribute to the conversation in real-time. Minister Tang, reports that as of today this process has taken up 26 major national issues of which 80% have led to incisive government action. The most notable of which is the 2015 UberX case that resulted in a restructuring of the company’s business model for the Taiwanese market.
In summation, the case of vTaiwan stands as a glimmering example of how technology can be used to enhance our participation within the governance process. It would not be to unrealistic to see a similar system arise in local and city government as a way to better interact with citizens and their concerns thus creating a more balanced and inclusive society.
F. Alexander Bijoux
Privatisation of Higher Education
While most of us were concerned with tackling online education through our computers in our bedrooms, European researchers and scholars belonging to the European University Association published their framework for what universities and their missions should look like in 2030 called ‘’Universities without walls: A vision for 2030.’’ The framework touched upon several important topics, such as sustainability, innovation and transnationalism. It describes the situation for European universities as a ‘’time for transformation driven by multiple economic, political and environmental pressures.’’A topic that was barely mentioned, however, was the systems that would be required to finance the proposed framework. What the report does say, is that ’’Financial autonomy must be strengthened to enable the university to take strategic decisions and foster institutional profiling. This must also include the possibility to diversify income sources.’’
In recent years, the higher education institutions in countries all over Europe have faced budgets cuts. The universities have been forced to find other sources of income, which often means that the students have to carry a larger financial burden for their academic trajectories.
The previous elitism of academia changed dramatically during the 20th century, led by the United States starting in the 1940s due to the economy’s need for a more advanced set of skills. This later spread to Europe in the 1960s. A more educated population resulted in an increase in intellectual capital, and this has later been labelled the ‘’knowledge economy.’’ The mass production of university graduates has inevitably led to societies where university undergraduate degrees are a minimum requirement for a decently paid job. If higher education is no longer a synonym for excellence but instead is the passport to a minimum standard of life, why are universities increasingly becoming financially inaccessible? It seems that the European state of well-being in which we are living is gradually changing, and becoming, slowly, a private-driven market where supply and demand are influential
factors. This slow movement towards privatization must make The European Union reconsider how to maintain the well-being state status. Countries must re-think how they allocate public funding to their students and universities.
There are no clear-cut solutions to this issue. One possible idea is to base allocation of public fundings on the performance and potential of each student. A second option is to base investments on the perfomances of the universities to stimulate competition. The main problem with reward systems is that it challenges the notion of what role academia should play in a society; Should it be a sanctuary that fosters critical thinking and allows for an unhindered quest after interests, or rather an instrumental means to an end where the goal is a tangible set of skills?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. What is certain, is that if no action is taken, the system will lead to an marketisation of the education system where purchasing power will be a determinative for an individual’s ability to pursue their goals unrestrained and in turn increase the socioeconomic differences.
https://www.eu-jer.com/EU-JER_9_2_743.pdf. (2020). European Journal of Educational Research, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.12973/eu-jer.9.2.753
The Erasmus Experience
Erasmus seemed like it faded away due to covid, but it will never die. Whether you are doing a bachelors or a masters, you will be confronted with all types of decisions: course selection, friend group formation, down to the type of student you are. Whilst hesitation may arise, when it comes to going for Erasmus there shall be no doubt, and I will tell you why.
Today with a bachelor, at least in my field of political sciences, you will not bring much to the professional world. Your higher education will not give you the missing piece of the puzzle that companies and thinktanks are looking for, it rather puts to the test your soft skills. These entail communication, adaptation, creativity, responsibility and most importantly reading of the situations you are put into. I believe only the handling of these social tests, with the problem-solving capacities you have developed, will get you further in this world I still know so little of. Such capacities can only be learnt the hard way: by getting out of your comfort zone.
That is why there is no better social test than an Erasmus, the further away from what you know, the better. Additionally, this theory is supported by numbers: according to the newspaper El Pais, 79% of young people participating in the European Mobility Programme start working within three months of completing their studies. This experience forms a level of self-confidence and empathy that can hardly be found in the comfort of your home, with the life of a high schooler. Similarly, the European Union supports this statement by adding that 70% of Erasmus students have a clearer idea of what they want to do professionally. After all, the freedom you are given in this situation allows for expansion your knowledge on the fields closest to your heart.
I could keep on going about how the professional world seems to value more and more the international experiences you have lived; ramble about the fact that whilst reputations, rankings and competition are important, there is more to it than meets the eye. However, I am sure you can find this sort of information elsewhere, from a more reputable source. I can nonetheless speak about my own experience, the one of an Erasmus student in Geneva, focusing on International Relations, in the city that hosts the most International Organisations in the world. Because Steve Jobs did not popularise Apple by adjusting humans to the technological advancements of 2007, but rather by adapting smartphones to the users. Applied to this context, is it not better to first know what your dream companies and international organisations are asking for, to then think about how you can adapt such criteria to your career, rather than doing any career and fighting to make the best out of it? Only you have the answer to this question, I just modestly hope I have been able to orient it towards what I believe will lead to the best outcome in life.
Marcos Léon Santiago