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Guild advises “flexible funding” for European unis

European universities should remove barriers to transnational mobility, ensure flexible funding and encourage innovation through competition, according to a group representing higher educational institutions across Europe. 

European Union flags outside the European Commission.Photo: Unsplash.

Removing barriers to mobility is the “hallmark of high-quality education”

The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, made up of 22 research-intensive universities across 16 European countries, has set out recommendations for the Investment Pathway of the European Universities initiative to expand the European Commission’s network to 60 alliances. 

The network currently comprises 50 alliances of more than 430 higher education institutions in 35 countries, including all EU member states and Iceland, Norway, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.

This month, the alliances gathered in Brussels to share best practices and discuss common objectives in advance of the European Commission’s 2024 Higher Education package to be published in April.

The Guild’s recommendations to the alliances encouraged more student mobility, greater budget flexibility and called for more investment in universities’ research and innovation capacities.

Student mobility

“Currently, some basic assumptions of internationalisation are being challenged. We are witnessing concerns related to the number of international students and study programmes offered in English,” said Ivana Didak, senior policy officer at the Guild. 

This month, fourteen Dutch universities announced plans to limit the number of English-taught degrees and reduce the number of international students in the Netherlands. 

As of January 2024, international students on taught masters courses in the UK were banned from bringing family members with them as dependents. 

“More than ever, we need to provide students with opportunities to move seamlessly across national borders,” said Ole Petter Ottersen, acting secretary-general of the Guild. 

Removing barriers to mobility is the “hallmark of high-quality education” that acts as “an antidote to the increasing polarisation that serves as a breeding ground for conflict and unrest,” he added. 

Through the alliances, which differ in scope and nature, students can get a degree by combining studies in several European countries. 

Under the 2023 expansion, close to 30 higher education institutions from Ukraine joined the alliances, strengthening the country’s educational cooperation with Europe and the world.


The Guild’s recommendations focus on providing more flexibility in terms of choosing priorities for alliances to focus on, but also budget flexibility and the types of activities which could be funded under the various EU instruments (Erasmus+, Framework Programme, EU’s external action funds, EU’s structural funds). 

“Currently, there are obstacles in the types of activities that can be funded with national funding for alliances, compared to the Erasmus+ activities,” said Didak. 

“More than ever, we need to provide students with opportunities to move seamlessly”

Instead of earmarking specific budgets to European Universities, the Guild emphasised the importance of greater budget flexibility to allow alliances to respond to the sector’s needs. 

Future calls that aim to advance the European Research Area should be “less prescriptive and leave applications with more opportunities to come up with bottom-up approaches” to engage their research communities, the Guild said. 

Consortia should also “contribute to removing silos between education, research and innovation”, said the Guild. 

It encouraged the fostering of competition between research actors and experts to spur changes and implement policies to advance the ERA.


The main source of financial support for European Universities alliances comes through Erasmus+, though they can also access national or regional funding schemes for research and innovation and any other relevant funding resources.  

The overall budget of the 2023 European Universities Network call, some €402.2 million, meant that each alliance received a budget of up to €14.4 million for four years. 

However, according to the Guild, European funding will never be enough. 

“If alliances are a long-term experiment with a transformative potential for the sector, EU funding alone – which is usually project based and has a seven-year financial perspective at most – won’t be enough. So, individual national governments and institutions themselves need to invest in its success,” said Didak. 

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