Can higher education counteract “alternative facts”, “fake news” & “illiberal democracy” and counter the rise of right-wing activity on camus?

In Dublin, October 4, a team of European, US, and South African  spokespersons on higher education, civic responsibility and democracy will gather in Dublin City University for a summit meeting and will also speak at a public event in the Royal Irish Academy to discuss the role of higher education in building and maintaining democracy, especially in local communities. Speakers at the RIA event and subsequent discussion will highlight the need for Higher Education to play a stronger role in establishing facts and nurturing attitudes and mindsets to decode facts from fake news, develop positive societal values and articulate and drive long and short term priorities for social transformation.

Since the global recession right-wing xenophobic movements have begun to grow in status globally. This in part is due to increasing opposition to immigration from the Middle East, Africa and Latin  America; contributing to anti-system votes and authoritarian styles of government. The ‘West’ seems less willing to deal with cultural and societal diversity and commitment to the common good. Alternative facts, fake news and ‘illiberal democracy’ are no longer considered absurd terms.

The Central European University (CEU), based in Budapest, has recently hit news headlines as Hungary’s government changed education law and withdrew permission for foreign-registered universities to operate if they do not also offer courses in their home country. This was widely seen as explicitly targeting CEU and Hungarian-born university financier, George Soros, who promotes liberal causes though his charities. 

Today’s event is organised by the Council of Europe and the International Consortium for Higher Education Civic Responsibility and Democracy in association with the Irish Universities Association. Speakers include Ira Harkavy, International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy; Sjur Bergan, Head of Education Department at the Council of Europe, Strasburg; and Jim Miley, Director General, Irish Universities Association.

Sjur Bergan, Head of Education Department, Directorate of Democratic Participation / DG Democracy Council of Europe said: “Universities provide students with competences that qualify them for the labour market, encourage them to be active citizens in democratic societies, and further their personal development.  Higher education institutions often play important national roles, but sometimes perhaps are less tuned to their role as members of their local communities”.