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On September 18, 1988, in the presence of many political leaders and representatives of society, 388 rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum.

That document remains as relevant to the mission of universities everywhere as it was when it was first signed. It has become the major reference for the fundamental values and principles of the university and over 800 university leaders from all over the world have now signed it. Each year the Magna Charta Observatory organises an international conference to address current challenges in upholding the fundamental values and celebrates in a ceremony as more rectors sign the Magna Charta Universitatum. The 2019 conference and ceremony take place on 16 and 17 October 2019 in Hamilton, Canada, at McMaster University.

Academic freedom has long been understood as a fundamental prerequisite for the work of universities as they undertake research, and evaluate and share knowledge as part of their broader responsibility and obligations to society. Historically, the degree of freedom enjoyed within the academy has been broadly proportional to the vitality of freedom of expression and enquiry prevailing in societies at large. In recent years, however, there has been a recognition that social and economic inequities are reflected and even perpetuated by power imbalances within the university, and the consequence of this has been to call into question the apparently self-evident value of absolute freedom of expression on university campuses: is the academy equally free for all its members, and if not, what is the enduring educational value of academic freedom?

Alongside questions of this sort, the responsibilities that universities bear, and the expectations which society has of universities, are becoming more various and complex. These derive from local economic and social agendas as well as from admirable commitments on the global scale, such as the UN’s sustainable development goals. Navigating this landscape of freedom, autonomy, equity and responsibility is complex and challenging for universities across the globe and unites our institutions as we seek to uphold our values, and contribute positively and meaningfully to the societies we seek to serve.

This conference addresses these critically important issues in a way that will stimulate discussion and enable active engagement by participants in a menu of workshop sessions. It will do so in association with Universities Canada and global associations including the International Association of Universities and Scholars at Risk. The outputs of the conference will not only be of benefit to participants and their universities but will also inform the development of a new Magna Charta Universitatum to reflect the changes and challenges which universities are facing.

The conference is open to university leaders and their representatives, higher education professionals and students, policy-makers and higher education stakeholders from all sectors to attend the event.

On 17 October, the Magna Charta Observatory, the University of Bologna and the McMaster University will host the Ceremony for the Signing of the Magna Charta by universities committed to the principles of the Universitatum. All participants and companions travelling with them are invited to attend.

Details of how to register and other information about the event can be reached through the tabs on the left of this page.

We look forward to welcoming you in Hamilton.