Go back

2021-2022 academic year: challenges and hopes

31 August 2021

Ludovic Thilly, Executive Board Chair
Cláudia Cavadas, Executive Board Vice-Chair


The 2021-2022 academic year is about to start, after a summer marked by dramatic developments on several fronts around the world such as COVID-19 pandemic, climate and geopolitical crises.

The Coimbra Group remains fully mobilized to support its 41 member universities in their efforts to address these challenges and to further promote our common academic values. On 23 August, we joined over 70 higher education networks, associations and organisations in endorsing the urgent appeal issued by Scholars at Risk Europe on behalf of Afghanistan’s researchers, scholars, students and civil society actors. With this collective statement, we urge European governments and EU institutions to take immediate action to secure the lives and careers of Afghanistan’s scholars, students, and civil society actors.

It is in this challenging context that the Coimbra Group Executive Board has set the following strategic priorities for 2021-2022, after consultation with the Rectors Advisory Group (online meeting on 16 June 2021):

1) Strengthen Coimbra Group advocacy activities, in particular regarding

  • the Pact for Research & Innovation and the European Research Area;
  • the European Strategy for Universities (former “Higher Education Transformation Agenda”);
  • the roll-out of the European Universities initiative (Alliances);
  • the synergy between higher education, research and innovation, which traditionally have always been a hallmark of Coimbra Group universities.

2) Continue assisting Coimbra Group universities in their management of the COVID-19 crisis on all sides.

3) Continue strengthening Coimbra Group engagement with society.

4) Continue developing policies, tools and guidelines to limit the impact of BREXIT on Universities’ core activities.

The first series of priorities will translate into continued cooperation with other European university associations, participation to meetings at the European Commission, Council and Parliament (and with the other stakeholders), and organisation of dedicated events – similar to the public conference that was held during the 2021 annual meeting with a session on “the sustainability of the European Universities Initiative in the context of multi-level governance” (replay) .

The second series of priorities will build on the findings of the first Coimbra Group study paper on the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education and Research. We aim to share experiences and ideas and define relevant practical and policy guidelines for Coimbra Group universities and the Higher Education and Research system overall. A second study paper, to be released this fall, is currently under preparation. It will extend our collective reflection to a wider range of dimensions and lay out a set of new recommendations for university leaders and policy-makers, including the EU institutions. In parallel, the Executive Board will take the discussions with the Working Groups further to establish concrete activities promoting complementary and blended mobility schemes for the academic community, thus strengthening the Coimbra Group as a Virtual Exchange platform. This will not replace our cooperation around physical mobility which was sorely lacking during the COVID-19 crisis.

Engagement with society will continue through the continued promotion of the Poitiers Declaration and new series of events and policy debates on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promoted by the United Nations. In particular, in continuity with the 2021 Coimbra Group Annual Conference, hosted by Charles University in Prague, that fostered important debate on “Sustainable Universities in the 21st century” , the 2021 Coimbra Group High-Level Research Policy Seminar “The Coimbra Group meets the United Nations”, will be held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 21 and 22 October 2021. This event, organized with the University of Geneva, will promote dialogue on Science Diplomacy, with a specific focus on the impact of the United Nations SDGs on research and the contribution of research to the SDGs. Various types of organisations (universities, government, think tanks and international organisations) will gather to discuss the roadmap towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.

Further engagement with society will take place in cooperation with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on 17 June 2021. The overarching goal of this MoU is to increase cooperation, foster internationalisation, civic engagement and active citizenship, with a specific focus on the involvement of students at local level.

Regarding BREXIT, the Coimbra Group will continue to follow the situation closely and to mobilize its actors and resources: in particular, we are ready to support mobility with our UK members using our network of 41 European universities and our Student Exchange Network (SEN), created twenty years ago and recently revised by our Academic Exchange and Mobility Working Group. The Coimbra Group Task Group on post-Brexit UK-EU exchange will also continue its consultations with relevant stakeholders to provide first-hand information and guidelines to our member universities, as a follow-up to the first “Key takeaway messages”.

All these topics and activities are strongly intertwined and the Executive Board members are looking forward to continue the fruitful collaboration with all Coimbra Group actors and partners in the tradition of our well-established collegial dialogue. Together, we will strive to transform these challenges into opportunities.

We wish you all a most successful academic year ahead!