‘Macron network’ bid to cement civic ties ‘no matter what Brexit brings’

Ljubljana-led, Warwick-founded alliance aims to ensure even spread of development across EU regions and maintain UK collaboration

February 3, 2019
Professor Papič

A group of universities bidding for European Union “Macron network” status aims to link their cities, from the West Midlands to the Western Balkans, while showing that continental collaboration with British institutions is vital “no matter what Brexit will bring”.

Igor Papič, rector of the University of Ljubljana, which is leading the EUTOPIA bid, said that part of the project’s aim is to help ensure “balanced development” across EU regions – which will be “crucial for the success of the EU in the future”.

Alongside Slovenia’s oldest university in the alliance are the University of Warwick (which established the group), the University of Paris-Seine, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona and the University of Gothenburg.

In 2017, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, proposed the creation of 20 “European universities” by 2024 – networks of existing institutions that would collaborate on research, education and innovation to help cement European cultural bonds.

The EU’s first round of funding will award €5 million (£4.4 million) to each of six successful bidding consortia. Further funding rounds will follow.

One German rector recently warned that UK universities would be shut out of the networks by Brexit – but Warwick is determined that will not be the case.

Firmer details about the EUTOPIA alliance are expected to emerge at a later stage. The alliance submitted its bid to the EU on 28 February, the deadline for bids. Among UK universities, the University of Essex has also announced that it is part of an alliance bidding for "Macron network" funding.

Professor Papič said that the alliance wanted to put students “at the centre” and would have the aim of "preparing them for the society of 2050”, to face challenges that are “technological [and] also sociological”.

Warwick has already said that its work with Paris-Seine will include joint master’s and PhD courses, as well as research or teaching collaborations in disciplines including cultural and media policy, applied linguistics and computer science.

In addition, the collaboration aims to facilitate links “between our different regions – not only between our university partners”, Professor Papič said.

At a conference hosted by the Île-de-France region in Paris in November, senior figures from organisations in the member universities’ regions – including Coventry City Council and Flanders Investment and Trade – discussed themes such as inclusive growth and how cities’ cultural heritage could be used to shape their futures.

On Brexit, Professor Papič said that he was “convinced it is important British universities remain partners in all EU programmes”.

He added: “I heard stories that other universities from the UK did not really want to participate in this [Macron network] call because nobody knows exactly what will happen after Brexit, or with Brexit…One of the messages is that our alliance would like to establish very good collaboration with UK universities no matter what Brexit will bring us.”

Professor Papič said that the initial discussions between the universities have been so fruitful that “we will continue to work together” even if the bid is not successful.

Ljubljana, which has about 40,000 students, marks its 100th anniversary this year.

There is a drive in Slovenia to build “good research infrastructure” to help “prevent brain drain from the region”, Professor Papič said.

Ljubljana has something of a representative role for “the region of Western Balkan countries”, he continued. “Everyone knows how many excellent professors have left these countries and are active in Western Europe, also the United States and Canada and so on.

“Our idea is…to establish here in this region good working conditions, good research infrastructure, in order that these people will stay here.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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