On 7 November 2019, the European Commission organized the kick-off meeting for the 17 European university alliances that were selected through the first pilot call. Under the slogan “Building the universities of the future”, more than 800 participants from different higher education institutions gathered together to start to explore the challenges and benefits created by this initiative. Strengthening European identity, building cooperation between alliances and increasing the role of students in decision-making processes were highlighted as essential for achieving the success of the initiative. During the event, the European Commission also presented the second pilot call. It has a budget of 120 million euros and intends to engage 24 new alliances.
In the first call selected 17 networks out of 54 applications for what was seen as a rather exploratory approach to promoting deeper university integration. This selection involves 114 higher education institutions from 25 countries. Each network receives up to €5 million over the next three years.
The networks selected under the first pilot call vary in terms of scope and thematic focus. More thematically oriented networks include CIVICA, dedicated to social sciences, CONEXUS – smart urban coastal sustainability, EU4Art – Alliance for fine arts curricula and EUGLOH – Alliance for Global Health. Alliances that play upon the profile and/or geography of their members include YUFE – Young Universities for the Future of Europe, EPICUR – European Partnership for an Innovative Campus Unifying Regions, building on the longstanding experience of EUCOR European Campus and extending it to further partners, and CHARM-EU that aims to promote common European values, focusing strategically on trying to rethink the role of Europe in the world as it faces one of the main global challenges in the 21st century.
The initiatives are diverse in their promises, ambitions and in their level of proposed integration. EUA, part of the SPHERE Team, has been monitoring the Initiative from the start and has contributed to its development through the stakeholder consultation group established by the European Commission. Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik, Policy Coordinator at EUA, representing the organisation in the EC stakeholder consultation group, explained, “For this system level impact to happen and for the alliances to achieve their individual goals, it will also be important that governments show willingness to remove some still existing legal and administrative obstacles to cross-border university collaboration and that experiences from the alliances are systematically disseminated beyond their direct members.”
According to EUA President Michael Murphy, who addressed the European Universities at the Bologna Process 20th anniversary conference in June this year and also spoke at the launch event, “Deep networks would inevitably simplify the attainment of the traditional Bologna Process goals. Networks will require new transnational academic governance models, new funding arrangements and challenging institutional cultural changes. This is a big political challenge, one first likely addressed within the EU, but where the EHEA will play a key role in including the whole of Europe in its ultimate design.”
The initiative, which stemmed from French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the Sorbonne University in September 2017, has been posed as a challenge to European universities to develop innovative ideas about how they could collaborate more closely, strategically and holistically, superseding what has been done to date in terms of mobility, joint programmes and other advances in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). It is deemed a contribution to the ‘European Education Area’ (not to be confused with the EHEA), a flagship of the Junker Commission, which should be launched in 2025. The concept of truly ‘European Universities’ was taken up under the Erasmus+ programme, with the original aim to create at least 20 such networks by 2024. It is expected that a new funding instrument of this nature will be integrated into the next Erasmus+ programme in 2021-2027.
The importance of European Universities for Partner Countries
Partner Countries have been watching with curiosity and interest: The European Universities should, in theory, go beyond the current forms of cooperation in Europe, supported by such instruments as the International Credit Mobility and the tools associated with it, recognition agreements, joint degree programmes and collaborative research. As many countries in the European Neighbourhood region, including countries with HERE teams, are actively participating in Erasmus+ and the European Research programmes, interest has been expressed as to what the European University networks will yield, and how this may shape expectations and standards for cooperation in the future, both within Europe and between Europe and Partner Countries. So far, the pilot calls are only open to current Erasmus+ Programme Countries, not Partner Countries.
According to Svitlana Shytikova, Head of the National Erasmus+ Office in Ukraine, “European Universities should contribute new approaches to university governance and students services, build quality assurance systems with proactive student and employer involvement, provide new teaching and learning methods and technologies based on European standards and values, further develop joint study programmes and link them to collaborative research".
We think this initiative will impact the quality assurance and internationalisation culture in Ukraine. We hope to develop new joint and flexible multidisciplinary curricula and embedded mobility and in blended format. This will open doors for Ukrainian universities to join the European Universities as global hubs of knowledge and innovation.“
Interviews with an European University
To provide HERE with a better sense of the visions and the concrete plans from these initiatives, as well as what they could mean for Partner Countries, the SPHERE Team organized a Q&A with CHARM-EU alliance: