A Case for the Visegrad College for Advanced Studies

Visegrad should use the potential of its researchers and establish idea hubs radiating throughout Europe and beyond

Leszek Koczanowicz
30 March 2017

Institutes for advanced (IAS) study play a crucial role in contemporary science. The model institution was established in Princeton in 1930 and has been the epitome of academic excellence for ninety years, with Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel, Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neuman, Cliffort Geertz, and George Kennan among its former fellows. The institute in Princeton imposed a certain modus operandi for its counterparts, built on the principle of autonomy. Although the institute is situated in the spatial vicinity of the renowned Princeton University, it remains independent in management and, most importantly, the research interests of its members. The core idea of IAS is to guarantee senior academics the genuine freedom of their intellectual pursuits. There are two categories of membership: permanent fellows are responsible for setting the program for departments, and visiting fellows are recruited to pursue their proposed research programs.

In the 1950s, the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences (CASB) was established at Stanford. Again, it was designed as an independent institution affiliated with Stanford University, although today it operates within the framework of the university. It was the 1970s and 1980s that saw genuine expansion of institutes for advanced study, a trend that remains ongoing all over the world. The institutes first sprung up overseas in Western Europe – the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Wassenaar, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala, to name just a few. European counterparts, in general, applied the original Princetonian model with a significant modification – they were closely intertwined with prestigious universities from their inception. The loss of independence was balanced out by greater influence on current academic life, as these institutes are more involved in research carried out by mother universities or university consortia. Today, European Institutes of Advanced Study are networked in the EURIAS Fellowship Program, which includes centers in Edinburgh, Cambridge, Uppsala, Helsinki, Wassenaar, Delmenhorst, Berlin, Freiburg, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bologna, Vienna, Budapest, and Jerusalem.

Setting aside the specificities of the American and European models, institutes for advanced study constitute a vital element of contemporary scientific life, promoting focused, self-directed work by top-class researchers. Where does their popularity stem from? The answer is apparent. The institutes are beneficial to the academics they attract, the universities with which they are affiliated, and the countries whose profiles they enhance. They foster communities of excellent researchers who freely discuss ideas and exchange research outcomes. As a result, IASs build natural platforms for the internationalization of science, accommodating top-class academics from a variety of fields and research centers. Furthermore, institutes for advanced study serve as an important supplement to the predominant grant model of research funding, and to some extent compensate for its shortcomings.

This brief sketch of the impact of IASs provides a background for emphasis of the importance of establishing a similar institution in the framework of Visegrad cooperation. There is only one genuine IAS operating in the V4 countries – the Institute for Advanced Studies, affiliated with the Central European University. The institute in Budapest was established in 2011 and is therefore still shaping its program, with a focus on developing the humanities, social sciences, and law. In Prague, the Center of Research in Social Sciences (CEFRES) networks junior scholars with parallel objectives. Finally, the renowned Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna has long been a crucial reference point for thinkers in the region.

The idea of a distinct Visegrad College for Advanced Study (VCAS) arises from this intellectual landscape. Let’s imagine it as an idea hub focused on showcasing intellectual output specific to Central Europe; an institution both embedded in the V4 and attuned to the global development of the sciences, founded on the conviction that currents of thought should flow freely outward and in.

To achieve these ambitious aims, institutional solutions must follow. VCAS should be an independent scientific institution affiliated with the consortium of the most prominent universities of the Visegrad Group. The member states of the V4 should ensure its funding for at least ten years, a period necessary to establish and implement sound research policy. The VCAS Council, consisting of representatives of universities and governments, would determine the objectives of the institute, appointing its managing board and supervising it. The Scientific Committee appointed by the Council would distribute the fellowships. It seems reasonable to guarantee a certain number of fellowships for researchers from the region. In addition to being a center of advanced research, VCAS could also serve as a didactic center, enabling Ph.D. students from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia to establish ties with scholars of global prominence, a prerequisite for an academic career in our times. In the longer perspective, a Visegrad Doctoral School of Social Sciences and Humanities could follow.

Basing VCAS in Poland, specifically in Warsaw, a center of growing political, economic, and intellectual importance, would not only strengthen the internal flow of people and concepts in the framework of Visegrad cooperation, but also reach out to Scandinavian and Baltic academic centers, and even Eastern Partnership countries. The lack of such an institution in this part of the continent is self-evident in looking at the dissemination of institutes networked in the EURIAS program. Furthermore, VCAS would serve as bait for junior and senior researchers from the V4 who received their qualifications abroad and would welcome the opportunity to pursue their advanced research back home, contributing to the sustainable and innovation-based development of the region. 

Translated by Anna Wójcik

 The article was originally published in Visegrad Insight vol. 1 (7) 2015.

Leszek Koczanowicz, Professor of Philosophy and Political Science, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities. In 1997, was a Senior Fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM), in 1998, a TRIS Fellow at the Netherland Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), and a Senior EURIAS Fellow 2015-2016, elected to the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Study (HCAS).