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Alfonso Sánchez-Tabernero Sánchez, President of the University of Navarra

Javier Echevarría and the University's challenges

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 12:06:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Universities have maintained their leading role in the intellectual training and in the production of science for more than eight centuries. Precisely this year, the University of Salamanca -the oldest in Spain- turns 800 years old. Since then, almost everything has changed in the academic world: disciplines, teaching methods, facilities, sources of funding.... However, one aspect remains unchanged: in good universities there are students eager to learn and teachers who motivate and guide.

The influence of the great masters is lasting. A little over a year ago Javier Echevarría, who was, for many people, a true master, passed away. He was a frequent visitor to Pamplona, as Chancellor of the University of Navarra. During the time he spent among us, he helped us to devise a more innovative and committed university, with a greater impact educational and cultural.

Like any other institution, the university is going through a time of great transformations and opportunities. In our country, we have the issue highest number of students and university centers ever known; but this quantitative increase does not guarantee that we are preparing students adequately to face the challenges of the increasingly complex world of work.

In his visits to the University of Navarra, Javier Echevarría always insisted on the centrality of the students. He warned us against the risk of overcrowding and anonymity, he insisted on the importance of the training staff , one to one: understanding and demanding, accompanying and encouraging, always with the utmost respect for each person. I think that here there is already a first teaching: the students are the most determining factor, the best guide to avoid complacency and impoverishing routines. Moving forward means, in the university environment, training students to become protagonists of change, transformers of society. And this is only possible if professors learn with them and from them.

Javier Echevarría also felt that the integration of areas of knowledge was crucial. Indeed, the University should be a space for meeting and dialogue between professors, researchers and students with very varied scientific interests. Time and again, our previous Chancellor recalled the need to foster an enriching relationship between the different Schools and knowledge, which helps to approach the most relevant social phenomena with a variety of approaches and methods; such a way of proceeding allows a deeper understanding of reality, in order to provide global solutions to global problems. "Interdisciplinary dialogue is essential for an innovative research and results in a more qualified service to society," said Don Javier in 2011, in an honorary doctoral graduation ceremony at the University of Navarra.

This is a real challenge for all university institutions. The higher Education should not be limited to providing the best training in technical matters, which tend to change at great speed, are rather instrumental and are easily supplanted by technology. On the other hand, other aspects are irreplaceable, such as the ability to learn, mental order, innovation, honesty and empathy. The work environment requires educated, versatile and creative professionals, with broad knowledge and an interest in continuous learning. In the words of our previous Chancellor, "the humanist sense of the University, as business at the service of the human person in all its dimensions, takes on a new light".

Finally, I would like to recall a comment by Mr. Javier that I also mentioned in the tribute ceremony that we recently held at the University of Navarra. In one of his meetings with the members of Office of the Executive Council, on the occasion of the attack that the University suffered in 2008, he strongly conveyed to us that the University is Navarre, that its vocation is to contribute to the development of the interests and needs of the Navarre community. It was not necessary for him to insist on this idea: those of us who work in this institution know that the University is rooted in the land where it was born more than six decades ago. And, also taking into account the inevitable human limitations, we aspire to contribute to making Navarre an international reference in Education, research and attendance health.

The influence of our teachers endures. We all have that experience with the people who have been an example in our lives: time passes, events occur, the world changes, we change, but their discreet and determining influence remains. And it does so not as a memory of something distant, which is evoked with affection and gratitude, but as a close presence, which is appreciated more as time goes by, which financial aid us to move forward here and now.