The 2021 Virtual HERE Annual conference is the last of a seven-year contractual period for Support for Higher Education Reform Experts (SPHERE) (, an initiative of the European Commission to support capacity development and policy reform in higher education in EU Neighbourhood countries. The conference is not only a means to celebrate what has been learned and achieved, but also to reflect in more depth on the impact of the HERE in higher education systems in EU Neighbourhood countries. This is particularly timely in the midst of a pandemic, where higher education reform topics that were already pressing prior to the crisis have become more accentuated, such as access, teaching and learning innovation, digitalisation, and quality assurance.

The conference will also offer an opportunity to look forward: What is in store for the new EU cooperation programmes for higher education and where is emphasis placed? How do HERE envisage the university of the immediate future and how can this be achieved? How have the dynamics of global cooperation changed and where are there new challenges and opportunities?

Structure:  The conference will be a two-day event that will offer plenary sessions and presentations, inter-active break-out groups and virtual networking opportunities. It is open to all HERE as well as selected international experts, especially those who have contributed to the HERE Technical Assistance Missions over the last years. A professional conference platform is being offered (EventInsight) which includes information ‘booths’ which will be made available to NEO, HERE and the European Commission.

Registration will be launched in the end of October 2021. The conference was  preceded by a ‘primer’ online workshop on ‘Greening in higher education’ on 18 October, open to all HERE and additional interested participants nominated by the NEO.


18 November:  Looking back: Seven years of higher education reform and impacts generated

Maître de conférence: Henriette Stoeber, European University Association (EUA)


9:00 - 10:15 (CET) - Opening session


  • Sophie Beernaerts, Head of Department, Education Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), European Commission
  • Markus González, Vice-Rector for International Policy, University of Barcelona
  • Amanda Crowfoot, Secretary General, European University Association (EUA)
  • Chair: Michael Gaebel, EUA/SPHERE Team


Explanation of the conference programme/’Padlet’ exercise

  • Henriette Stoeber, EUA/SPHERE Team
  • Michael Gaebel, EUA/SPHERE Team


Keynote: Looking back/looking forward: Seven years of higher education reform 

  • Sjur Bergan, Head of Education Department, Council of Europe
  • Chair: Michael Gaebel, EUA/SPHERE Team


10:15 - 10:30   Short break/networking session

10:30 - 12:00 - Session 1: Generating impact from the HERE? 

This session will explore past HERE events, national HERE network activities and related projects (E+, for example) and the tangible and intangible impacts that can be observed in HE systems.

Plenary (40 min)

  • Summary of the HERE activity reports: Key, recurrent trends – Anila Troshani, EACEA
  • Presentation of key findings from the SPHERE Structural Project Impact Study – Elizabeth Colucci, SPHERE Team/EUA
  • Discussion with participants

Thematic break-out sessions (50 min):

Each session will start with a short testimonial or case study from a HERE regarding the HERE activities that have driven reform on the topic at hand and the impact, citing specific examples. This will follow with guided discussion. HERE will be expected to share concrete cases and examples of policy reform on the topic at hand.

  • Group 1: Digital Learning
    • Chair: Michael Gaebel, EUA/SPHERE Team
    • Case study: Nazokat Kasymova, Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies, Uzbekistan 
    • Rapporteur: Henriette Stoeber, EUA/ SPHERE Team
  • Group 2: Student contribution to governance, quality assurance and learning and teaching design
    • Chair: Howard Davies, EUA/SPHERE Team
    • Case study: Cristina Voroneanu, Erasmus Students Network (ESN)/ HERE Student, Moldova
    • Rapporteur: Howard Davies, EUA/SPHERE Team
  • Group 3: Quality assurance reform
    • Chair: Lucien Bollaert, QA Expert/Ghent University, Belgium
    • Case Study: Prof. Iryna Zolotaryova, HERE Ukraine, member of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance
    • Rapporteur: Gohar Hovhannisyan, EUA
  • Group 4: Internationalisation and mobility
    • Chair and presentation: Tamar Sanikidze, National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, Georgia
    • Rapporteur: Elizabeth Colucci, EUA/SPHERE Team


12:00 - 13:00   Break/Poster Session (1hr)

13:00 - 14:00 Session 2: Impact: A reflection on Technical Assistance Missions 

Panel with three SPHERE experts who have participated in multiple TAM, offering external observations and reflections on system change in Partner Countries, the role of the HERE, and lessons learned for the future.  

  • Volker Gehmlich, Germany: SPHERE expert on learning and teaching, ECTS and curricula development
  • Melita Kovecevic, Croatia: SPHERE expert on doctoral education and research capacity
  • Bryan Maguire, Ireland: SPHERE expert on quality in higher education
  • Chair: Michael Gaebel, EUA/ SPHERE Team


14:00 - 14:15   Short break

14:15 - 15:00  Session 3: Impact: Reflecting on the global pandemic as a change accelerator: Lessons from the HERE action and Erasmus+ 

Panel: Four HERE panelists reflecting on ‘before, now and after’ and commenting on the ways in which the pandemic has been an accelerator for innovation and change in HE and the extent to which systems have met the challenges. Panelists are invited to respond to critical questions and assess how HERE actions, E+ projects and other EU initiatives have been exploited in the efforts to respond to the pandemic. Panelists should also comment on the ownership of such actions and projects and their longer-term exploitation and sustainability. 

  • Elena Gorbashko, Vice-Rector for Research, Saint-Petersburg State University of Economics, Russia
  • Mira Vukčević, Full Professor, University of Montenegro, Montenegro
  • Yoav Fridman, Head of Research and Innovation Authority, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Israel
  • Chair: Hilligje van’t Land, Secretary General, International Association of Universities (IAU)

15:00  Close of day 1

19 November -  Looking forward

9:00 - 10:00 CET - Session 4: Universities without walls 

Panel discussion with the European Commission, HEREs, students

  • Tine Delva, DG Education and Culture, European Commission
  • Two HERE Panelists
    • Chafic Mokbel, Acting Secretary General of the Research Council, University of Balamand, Lebanon
    • Aleksandra Nikolic, Minister for Science, Higher Education and Young, Canton Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Jakub Grodeki, Vice-president of the European Students’ Union (ESU)
  • Chair: Michael Murphy, President, European University Association


10:00 - 10:30    Coffee/networking break (‘Carousel’)

10:30 - 11:30 - Session 5: What’s in store for E+ 2021-2027? 

Presentation by the European Commission. Special attention will be paid to where Partner Countries can benefit, to the new E+ CBHE action and to the future of the HERE and the global ‘contact points’.

  • Filip Van Depoele, Head of Unit for International Cooperation, DG EAC, European Commission
  • Chair: Henriette Stoeber, EUA


11:30 - 12:00   Break

12:00 - 13:00 - Session 6: Parallel thematic sessions on emerging, hot-topic issues

  • Group 1: Mobility and Inclusion: Where are we now?

State of the Art regarding mobility and inclusion since the SPHERE Study of 2018. The session will be forward looking, considering how mobility is being reshaped.

  • Short presentation from the SPHERE Team (Howard Davies)
  • Interview with mobile students: Madina Karsakpayeva and Ingrid Annilo, Erasmus Mundus Alumni Association (EMA)
  • Chair: Howard Davies, EUA


  • Group 2: Higher Education and Greening  

Discussion on university greening strategies and policies: This can include campus management, social engagement and third mission, teaching and learning related to sustainability and greening, and designing eco-friendly university projects

*This session was preceded by a SPHERE Webinar where a presentation of the EUA Greening Survey was discussed, as well as a new report on greening of the EU institutions. The webinar is made available as a video on the conference website

  • Recap from the Greening Webinar: Henriette Stoeber, EUA/SPHERE Team
  • Case study: Ahmed Abu Hanieh, Birzeit University, Palestine
  • Short presentation: Marlène Bartes, DG EAC, European Commission
  • Chair: Michael Gaebel, EUA/ SPHERE Team


13:00 - 13:15   Short break

13:15 - 14:15 -  Session 7: The Bologna Process, ‘global engagement’ and impact in Partner Countries

Given that many Partner Countries with HERE teams are part of the Bologna Process and/or adhere to it, this session will provide a snapshot of the global cooperation priorities of the Bologna Process going forward, how this is being structured and what the possible opportunities are. Attention will be given to non-Bologna signatory countries and the impact of Bologna-like reforms in their countries.

  • Irine Darchia, Associate Professor, Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia
  • Nazokat Kasymova, Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies, Uzbekistan
  • Khalid Jaafar Naciri, former president of University Hassan 2 of Casablanca, Morocco
  • Ann Katherine Isaacs, Co-Chair of the Bologna Follow Up Group's Coordination Group on Global Policy Dialogue (CG GPD)/Bologna Implementation Coordination Group (BICG), Italy
  • Chair: Elizabeth Colucci, EUA/SPHERE Team   


14:15 - Closing session

  • Thanks from the SPHERE Team
  • Thanks from the EACEA
  • Closing networking and social interaction activity

15:00   Close