On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the University of Nova Gorica

Personal viewpoint of Akad. Prof. Dr. Boštjan Žekš

This year, the University of Nova Gorica (the UNG) celebrates its 25th anniversary. Given that I had participated in the founding of the University and in the initial period of its operation, I was kindly invited to write a few words. I was happy to accept the invitation because I firmly believe that the UNG establishment has significantly marked the development of our higher education and science – but not as significantly as it could have if we were all aware of it.

It all commenced at the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS), where the idea of a new higher education and research institution, which we felt was necessary for two reasons, first occurred. The first reason was that many highly qualified IJS scientists did not have access to education work and therefore no opportunity to pass on their knowledge to the younger generations. The second reason was that we felt our higher education needed to be renewed and opened and to have its links with the world enhanced. We believed that a new university of the highest possible quality, open to the world, could make a major contribution to the development and renewal of our higher education.

However, we have failed to encounter general support. We might say that we have encountered general resistance and widespread misunderstanding. It soon became clear that there was no possibility for the creation of a new, different state university. Therefore, the beginning of the UNG, dating back to 1995, is marked with the establishment of the School of Environmental Sciences as a private institution, which later evolved into a university with new schools. The UNG is considered a private university with regard to its status; however, it does not involve true privacy, as the UNG does not have a private owner who would make profit and subordinate the quality of study and care for students in this respect; throughout the history, the UNG founders were important Slovenian public research institutes (Jožef Stefan Institute, Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) and important local communities in northern Primorska (Municipality of Nova Gorica, Municipality of Ajdovščina).

In light of this relatively successful development, we might well ask ourselves whether the UNG has managed to achieve the objectives of its foundation. Are scientists from institutes, the IJS and others more involved in the education process at universities today? I don’t think they are. Has the establishment of the UNG, a new school with a new, different functioning method, changed the already existing higher education institutions? Once again, I believe that the answer is no. Our higher education is still focused more on quantity than quality and thus still differs from that in the developed world. Although at the commencement, the tasks were not fully fulfilled, it is clear that with constant quality assurance and avoidance of massiveness, the UNG has become a small yet high-quality university, I could say “elite”, however I will avoid using this word as “chez nous” it is considered to have a negative connotation. Furthermore, the assessment of Europe’s university-based research, conducted and published by the EU, ranks the UNG at the top of European universities. It is remarkable that we have managed to create a university that is comparable to Oxford, Cambridge, Zurich and Lausanne in terms of quality, but of course not in size.
Nevertheless, this achievement has failed to arose enthusiasm and interest in our environment. Students continue to enrol en masse at faculties at universities in cities with developed student life, and the state funding follows this trend. I guess the state will have to seriously consider the development of our higher education; moreover, the UNG will also have to seriously consider its future development under these circumstances and perhaps place greater emphasis on scientific and research work, as this is where its strength and advantage lie. This does not mean, however, that the UNG will have to focus even more on postgraduate, doctoral studies and quality research work.

In my opinion, the UNG is a story of success. In 25 years, a small, internationally renowned university has emerged out of nothing. Hard work and interconnectedness have enabled the University to break down the concrete wall built by our society and the state in order to defend them against innovations and progress.