Defer Macron’s dream for European universities, mobility experts say

The French president’s ambitious plan for cross-border universities will require at least seven years given integration required, experts warn

September 26, 2019
Emmanuel Macron
Source: Getty

Asking a new network of cross-border “European universities” to establish joint degrees and mutual recognition systems within three years is unrealistic, experts have warned.

In June, the European Commission announced the names of 17 European University alliances involving 114 higher education institutions from 24 European Union states, with each alliance receiving €5 million (£4.4 million) over the next three years to work together on a shared long-term priority, such as the digital economy, civic engagement and the maritime economy.

The initiative followed a speech by French president Emmanuel Macron at the Sorbonne University in Paris in September 2017, in which he called for the creation of 20 “European universities” at which all students would study abroad and take classes in at least two languages by 2024.

Speaking at the European Association for International Education conference in Helsinki on 25 September, however, several international education experts raised doubts about the scope and speed of the European integration plan, in which alliance members will set up joint degrees with universities in their group and award credit for time spent studying abroad at other institutions.

With institutions having to overcome numerous legal and administration hurdles in each country, as well as quality assurance and credit recognition issues, three years would not be enough time to integrate processes, said Sriram Pavan, president of the Erasmus Mundus Association, part of the EU scheme to deepen institutional links across Europe that is widely seen as the forerunner to the Macron plan.

Instead, institutions should be given at least seven years to forge meaningful links with each other, said Mr Pavan, an Indian-born data scientist now based in Norway.

“The ambition level is quite high and it could easily take two years just to see how this cooperation works,” he told Times Higher Education.

“They haven’t really started to think about the legal and administrative barriers [of creating joint degrees], so two years is a very short time frame to achieve this,” he added.

Others also acknowledged the difficulty of aligning degree programmes across multiple universities – a process that will allow students and staff to move freely between alliance members.

“It takes forever to negotiate a joint degree programme between three or four institutions – imagine how long it will take to do this across eight universities,” said Mattea Capelli, international officer at Sapienza University of Rome, which is part of the Civis alliance that seeks to unite 400,000 students and 50,000 staff across eight civic universities in a single cross-border “joint campus” by 2025.

Raimonda Markeviciene, head of international relations at Vilnius University, Lithuania, part of the seven-strong ARQUS alliance to improve universities’ regional engagement, said it would take at least two years to agree a common curricula. “We will not have time to test it [in the three-year funding period],” she said.

“But this isn’t just about joint degrees – our alliance is about building European citizenship, before, during and after university, and that will take time but it is achievable,” concluded Ms Markeviciene.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: More time needed for  Macron’s EU HE dream

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