Macron’s European universities still the goal, says EUA head

Legal reforms to enable creation of ‘European degree’ the next step towards closer cross-border integration, THE summit hears

四月 25, 2024
Flags near European Parliament
Source: iStock/ChiccoDodiFC

University alliances can still aspire towards Emmanuel Macron’s vision of a united European University, a conference has heard.

At present, more than 430 universities across the continent make up 50 alliances under the European Universities initiative. In October, the European Commission opened a call for new partnerships, with the goal of reaching 60 alliances with more than 500 members.

Progress has been slower than hoped: the commission’s original aim, set out in late 2017, was to establish at least 20 fully-fledged “European universities” by 2024, described as “bottom-up networks of universities across the European Union which will enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several EU countries”.

Josep Garrell, president of the European University Association (EUA), said alliances could still pursue “one final goal, that is to create one cross-border university”.

“The first step is to really work on a European degree,” he told the Times Higher Education Europe Universities Summit, held at Constructor University in Bremen. “Why not promote this kind of big university that will represent the European higher education landscape globally? Let’s take it step by step.”

“If you talk to different governments from different countries, probably you will get different answers. Sometimes the political landscape in the country doesn’t permit this kind of reform,” he continued. “It should not be mandatory but probably it’s good to try to promote this kind of big university.”

The EUA considered itself a “critical friend” of the European Universities initiative, Professor Garrell said. While “nobody can go against the promotion of the international collaboration of universities”, he noted several reasons for caution, among them the risk of creating a “two-tier university system” that disadvantaged institutions not belonging to an alliance.

Universities should also avoid “not recognising, not supporting and not promoting other types of international collaboration between universities”, he added. “One size does not fit all – we need to keep this in mind.”

Care should be taken to “manage the different legal frameworks and funding conditions” of member states and individual institutions, Professor Garrell said. The initiative is currently funded through Erasmus+, with a budget of €1.1 billion (£942 million) for the 2021 to 2027 budgetary period, with some universities also receiving funding from regional and national governments.

“If some members of the alliance have more money and more resources, this is going to cause tensions within the alliances,” he noted, before addressing the long-term financial sustainability of the scheme. “If after this phase alliances do not receive additional funds, how many of these strategic partnerships will remain in the future?”

Welcoming the commission’s recent blueprint for a European degree, Professor Garrell stressed: “The universities really need legal reforms in order to do what they are supposed to do with the alliances.”

Despite the challenges posed, the EUA head said the alliances would generate new opportunities and create “a new frontier for the universities in Europe.”

“The initiative is an excellent way to shake the system,” he said.



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