NITEL Manifesto

The obligations of NITEL between Universities and society

The potential represented by Universities as sources and proponents of new cultural models rapidly comes into conflict with conservative institutions. In the XIII century, civil authorities (the sovereigns of France and England, the magistrates of the towns and cities of Italy) began to impose control over universities. Risking condemnation from the Church, the first universities opened the way to modern medicine thanks also to secret anatomy lessons held far from urban centres, even in the brothels of Bologna in 1219.
In the centuries that followed, the universities participated in the debates between dogmatism, supported in ecclesiastical circles, and the experimental approach at the base of medical science.
Since the XIV century, schools of jurists and medical doctors were joined by schools of philosophy, arithmetic, astronomy, logic, rhetoric and grammar.

With the first Industrial Revolution in the XVIII century, it was the university that promoted scientific and technological development and hosted the research of Luigi Galvani, who – together with Alessandro Volta, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Cavendish – was one of the founders of the applied science of electricity.

According to Etzkowitz, the nineteenth century saw the “First Academic Revolution”. This marked the end of the first model (the university as a place dedicated to the transmission and consolidation of knowledge, with a limited research function remaining subordinate to teaching) in favour of a new model characterised by an explicit research role that would meet even external demand in the areas of production of goods, economics, health, territorial management and the armed forces.

At the same time, universities increasingly participated in social and political life. The Italian “risorgmimento” saw many universities in the front line.

The two world wars and the dictatorships of the twentieth century reawakened the longing for liberty and justice in the universities. Two episodes of resistance to Nazism must be remembered:

  • the revolt of the pacifist students, arrested and shot by the hundreds by the Nazis on Novermber 17th, 1939;
  • the White Rose movement of German opposition to the Nazis born in 1942 at the University of Munich, made up of students and professors – all executed.

The post-war period allowed the universities to reach new levels of excellence, after the rich period of the pioneering phase in the field of electronics. Here, the Polytechnic Institute of Milan was a distinguished actor, and since 1954 has been the seat of the first centre for electronic calculation in Europe (representing the birth of Information Technology in Italy) and host to the Nobel Prize winner Giulio Natta (1963) for his studies on polymers.

But universities made the news also because they gave life to the great student protests of the 1968 student movement: the university protests synthesising the “counter-culture” and “anti-modernist” movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s and opposing techno-bureaucratic rationality that characterised power in its various forms.

The free spirit of the universities was still at the forefront under the last European dictators in the 1970’s. This epilogue is witnessed by those Greek students massacred by tanks by the regime on November 17th 1973 (November 17th is fixed as a “symbolic date” for students, as is May 1st for workers, by the Fourth World Assembly of Students).

Later, the theatre of university struggles moved outside the European Union: we must remember the dramatic episodes of Tien Anmen (1989) and the liberal Ja Dumaju ( = I think) movement, which rose up in the Private University of Economics and Management in Moscow.

The current period that European universities are living was born, according to Etzkowitz, after 1980 as an effect of the “Second Academic Revolution”. This brought about a model of the university as an active agent in the areas of industrial and technological development, but which for a number of reasons (public policy, production demand, economic restrictions, proliferation of research areas, social transformation) has lost its importance as a cultural Leader and proponent of new ideas.

In its areas of competence, NITEL sets its objective as that of brining the university back into the stream of its long history.