Weak leadership and law-making ‘undermining EU alliances’

Ambition of European Universities Initiative will be realised only by competent leadership and ceding more power to EU officials, says EUA president

十二月 13, 2022
Caged canary
Source: iStock

The European Union’s university alliances can succeed only with stronger institutional leadership and more unified political power in Brussels, according to a sector leader.

Michael Murphy, the president of the European University Association (EUA), said aspirations for the European Universities alliances are being undermined by national politicians’ unwillingness to pass powers over educational law-making to the EU institutions.

As well as encouraging EU-themed cooperation between universities, the alliances serve as willing battering rams tackling the bloc’s cross-border educational barriers, highlighting mismatches that range from academic calendars to quality assurance.

Professor Murphy said politicians’ stated goals for the popular initiative were contradicted by their inaction on these domestic hurdles and a refusal to give Brussels the power to remove them.

“We have a big-picture idea that this is another vehicle for sustaining peace in Europe, creating European identity,” he said at an EUA event in Brussels. “But when it comes to addressing the challenges that must be met for this to work, there is an absolute reluctance to cede power. That schizophrenia has to be challenged.”

Under the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the EU has a “supporting and supplementing” role in education, “encouraging cooperation” but leaving responsibility for curricula and the organisation of systems in the hands of its member states.

“If the next iteration of EU treaties does not deliver some competence in higher education and research to the European institutions, our children are going to be working for Chinese companies and they’re going to be singing American songs. It’s as simple as that,” said Professor Murphy.

MEPs began the process to revise the EU’s foundational treaties in June, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen giving her backing for a constitutional convention in a September speech. Member governments in the European Council, however, have remained conspicuously silent.

Aside from sweeping constitutional changes, Professor Murphy explained, the alliances’ member universities also needed stronger leadership to succeed, citing a lack of strategic planning for cross-border cooperation as an example. “We have some very professional leaders across Europe, and we have many who rely on divine inspiration after a rectoral election, and that we’ve got to deal with if we’re going to be successful in this initiative,” he said.

Speaking on the same panel, Kathleen O’Connor, vice-president for international and European networks at the University of Lille, pointed out that 90 per cent of European universities would never be funded by the initiative. Professor Murphy responded that the alliances’ value was as “canaries in the coalmine”, “showing what the challenges are for all universities across Europe right now”.

That position could come with risks. Liviu Matei, professor of higher education and public policy at King’s College London, warned that the dazzling political attention on the initiative might lead it to “overshadow, if not kill, other forms of cooperation”, while Jeroen Huisman, professor of higher education at Ghent University, noted that “a lot of canaries died”.




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