We have so much in common!
Dundee was a wonderful conference well organized, wonderful time and full of friendship. I love EUNIS congresses and I did not miss one since the first one in Düsseldorf in 1995. They are so many things, which, in my opinion, make EUNIS congresses a fruitful event.
The first reason is the quality of the presentations. In the early age of EUNIS the main objective was to discover what was going on in each country and most presentations were about the state of the art in the different European countries. It took some years to go a step further. To achieve the quality of these last years congresses and the variety of the subjects a few additional years were needed and I am proud to say that today EUNIS congresses are a major event in Europe. It is certainly one of the best place to have a broad view, in one location only, of the most advanced features about all aspects of IT in Higher Education in Europe. There are many excellent events all around but often with a narrower scope. EUNIS congress is unique in Europe!
A second reason is the size of the attendance. The largest attendance was 450 about, the smallest one 250. It is rather sensitive to facts such as the complexity to come to the location and the price of the travel. However these last years EUNIS did not suffer too much from the restriction in the travel budget experienced in most European universities. EUNIS is the right size: small enough to meet and exchange with all the people, large enough to attract good papers but not so many, so that we do not need to multiply the number of parallel tracks. Already these last years I had to make difficult choices among exciting presentations running in parallel. Congresses were 10 or more parallel tracks are running in parallel are a nightmare: how to make a good choice, what will I be missing?
The last and most important reason is the friendship: it is so warm to meet again people and to continue a chat from the last year, learning more about new ideas, continuing projects and everyday life since the last encounter. Organizing the congress inside a university building adds a lot to this atmosphere. We are in a real place with real people and I am always curious to see other universities from the inside. I do not wish that our meetings becoming so large so that we should move to impersonal congress centers. We would lose this atmosphere. EUNIS congresses are a place to meet people and must remain so.
However I have some regrets. Most people attend international conferences, such as EUNIS and national congresses only. Very few go to local meetings beyond their frontiers in other countries in Europe. We eventually look the other side of the Atlantic but that is all. There is certainly much to learn from MIT or Harvard but it is difficult to implement their ideas in view of the difference of budget, a real unbridgeable chasm! One of the main reasons is that most communications, at national level, are delivered in the native languages, which is fully normal because it is natural and allows much more people to express themselves. Europe is made of many countries with many languages and we must preserve this richness. However it would be a good idea, for some meetings, to organize some “international sessions” with papers delivered in English, so that European partners could attend. At the same time it would be a good training opportunity for our young people, who might be afraid to speak English in international congresses. Thus my demand to you is to suggest to the organizers of some meetings, in your own country, to establish such sessions. This suggestion is also true for our English native colleagues.
Attending a national congress in another country will give you another insight of what is going on in this country. You will meet a number of people who seldom attend international congresses, too shy to expose their work to an international audience. Moreover the tendency is to discuss broadly problems and solutions and not only to show the edge of the work being done. I was invited this year to meetings in UK and Finland and it was very rewarding to listen about every day difficulties and to discover how they were solved. It was the same for the meetings I attended in France and I thought it would be worthwhile for an international audience to listen to these modest people who do a wonderful job in their own corner.
Thus take the opportunity to discuss this suggestion with your colleagues at the next EUNIS event that you will attend. Use EUNIS media to publicize your events, the big ones like the modest ones. Remember that, we at EUNIS, we want to build the bridge among people in Europe. Organize sessions in English in your own country and invite your pairs.
It will take time to attract people but it is worthwhile to be patient. We have so much in common!