Plans for a network of European universities must not prioritise “mediocre” institutions, a sector leader has warned.
Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities, a group of 23 leading institutions, said the proposed network should provide an opportunity for Europe to showcase the “excellence” in many universities across the continent.
Last year, French president Emmanuel Macron proposed the idea of establishing 20 cross-border European universities or university networks.
Speaking to Times Higher Education after attending a European Commission meeting about the network, Professor Deketelaere said the “elephant in the room” at the event was whether the European Union would “support networks of universities which are nice but of which the added value, the impact, is limited” because they do not include the “best universities that we have”.
“I hope that at the end of the day we are not going to end up with mediocre institutions which form networks because they have the right geographical composition of the network and they have been ticking the right political boxes...to get that recognition and funding,” he said.
“The whole issue is how can we make sure that this initiative really can have added value, can have impact and can showcase to the rest of the world what is the fantastic quality that we have in many institutions across Europe.”
He admitted that it was “a little bit difficult” for him to make this plea given that he runs “a group of 23 very good universities” but he insisted that by “best universities” he was not referring to Leru’s members. “There are much more than 23 excellent universities in Europe,” he said.
Leru as a network is also “never going to apply” to be part of this new European initiative because as a lobby organisation it would never accept any EU money, he said, although he added that its member institutions might choose to participate.
Professor Deketelaere added that, while the proposed network of European universities was “a very worthwhile idea”, the European Commission and member states “shouldn’t be blind to the enormous amount of practical problems” it will create.
In particular, he said that the EU is “very short of cash to do something that is really very significant in this field” and there would be issues around aligning the regulatory frameworks of different nations for collaborations such as joint programmes.