I have been off to Bologna last weekend for ReUniOn, the first international meeting of University of Bologna’s ex-alumni. For three days, the historical city centre witnessed an invasion of 20.000 people, of all ages and genders, wearing badges with the colour of the Department they graduated into back to the days. Stands located in town hosted panel discussions on human rights, physic and medical research, history, politics and literature with professors and other experts.
I left Bologna in 2009 when I was 21. At the time I had just obtained a Bachelor degree in Biotechnology and a had already a foot in Sweden, with a PhD position waiting for me. I left the University quickly, almost rushing. There was Europe ahead of me, a language I didn’t speak well and the science I loved. Coming back to Bologna gave me the opportunity to wonder around the city once I felt tiny, now I see beautiful, peaceful and rich.
At ReUniOn I had the opportunity to share with the public my story, what does it mean to make science abroad and why Bologna was a significant place for me. I also had the chance to share a couple of ideas on how I think the University should work to help its pupils flourishing. Among the people who listened, there was the Rector of Universtiy Ivano Dionigi, the director of the Biotechnology Bachelor program Giovanni Capranico, and the Head of the Department of Medicine Luigi Bolondi.
Here follows those ideas. I hope they were listened.
Get me wrong
A good University teaches well to its students. An excellent University proves its students they are wrong, they can fail and they need to try harder. University of Bologna needs to escape the simplistic bureaucratisation of education, an easy exit that will turn the oldest educational enterprise of the world into an “industry for certifications” – with ever lowering educational standards. With different resources, the University needs to find a way to put its students on a challenge, and not simply demand them to sit down and listen. “Sometime they simply ignore us” told me Mary, MD in Bologna and my ex-flatmate during student life.
Knowledge is overrated
Daniele Virgilli is a linguistic and a contributor to Wired who shared his story at ReUniOn. Last year he blow the web when introduced fake facts about some Italian political figures on Wikipedia, which in turn were picked up by established journalists who passed them on to the media. Daniele’s story perfectly convey the message: University is no-longer an exclusive place for knowledge, but today seems to be an exclusive place for growing skepticism, the fine art of filtering information, understanding safe and unsafe sources, debugging the fake and digging into issues. We need more intelligent consumers of knowledge, not sponges.
It’s about who you know
I learned most of my medical statistic by a Harvard University’s professor who teaches online, and all my computer coding from the blog of a bioinformatician from New Castle University. To people who fears for this type of education to replace Universities, I reply that old-style Universities have a card to play that will never get any online platform: the people. Bologna is a place where we go when we need to understand what we want to do. This make it the perfect hub to meet a future employer, business partner or trustful employee at any time, either among student and professor bodies, or in the universe of that revolves around the college. Enthusiasm need to be fed with constructive networking and a constant flow of ideas and resources. Bologna needs also to find the money to sponsor small, possibly wasteful entrepreneurship, at any cost, especially in a time when it is hard in Italy to reward youth for their creativity.