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Political goals of European Unis spark concerns

The EU Council of Education Ministers released and adopted its conclusions on the European Universities Initiative on May 17, reaffirming its support for the project and calling for “member states and the [European] Commission to make sure that the initiative remains central to building a European Education Area by 2025”.

EuropeanThe initiative seeks greater cooperation between European universities. Photo: Unsplash

Launched in 2017, the European Universities Initiative encompasses 17 “European Universities”

Overall the European Universities Initiative so far encompasses 41 university alliances established under the pilot calls in 2019 and 2020 as networks of higher education institutions that cooperate across borders.

The mid-term review of the first 17 alliances will take place later this year.

“We all must guarantee that ‘European Universities’ are made operational as ‘test beds’ for student-centred approaches, addressing societal challenges and skills needs in Europe,” said Manuel Heitor, minister of science and higher education of Portugal.

“They should also act as ‘test beds’ for responsible research and teaching and the recruitment of young researchers, including improved tenure track systems, and to strengthen career management and diversification.”

However, Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik, policy coordinator at European University Association, cautioned that “too much political steering” could be detrimental to the success of the initiative.

“We are a bit concerned that there are a lot of different political goals attached to the European Universities Initiative”

“We are a bit concerned that there are a lot of different political goals attached to the European Universities Initiative,” she told The PIE News.

“The initiative has lost a little bit of the ‘bottom up’ momentum it had at the start… Putting all of these very different and very ambitious goals to the alliances doesn’t give them enough leeway, time and resources, that they need to actually focus on their academic projects and what they want to achieve.”

Her concerns were also echoed by the League of European Research Universities, whose chair, Sorbonne University president Jean Chambaz, noted that the “long-term success of the European Universities depends on the ability of national policy makers and actors to remove regulatory and administrative hurdles, which are most often obsolete rules resulting from the historical building of our national systems”.

“Cleaning up these obstacles is a necessity to build up this open area of higher education in Europe, which we all call for,” he added.

LERU and the EUA have also noted that the future of UK members of the initiative remains unclear.

“There is currently the question of what will happen to UK members after the pilot phase, at least under the Erasmus part of the alliance, and whether they can continue on a self-funding basis,” Claeys-Kulik said.

“Of course, it’s in the interest of the alliances to keep their members.”

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