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Alliances of European Universities : future developments

27 February 2020

On February 5th, the European Commission (Unit B1 Higher Education, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture) organized another meeting of the stakeholders group on European Universities, following up on similar series of meetings before and after the first call of the pilot phase, in 2018 and 2019. The Coimbra Group was represented by the Chair of the Executive Board, Ludovic Thilly, and Lenka Rovna, member of the Executive Board.

The announced objectives were to “take stock together of the lessons learnt from the first call for proposals and to prepare for the future of the initiative” and to “discuss […] how the European Universities can pave the way towards the Universities of the future and how the full roll-out of the initiative under the next Erasmus programme could be implemented, in synergies with other EU instruments”.

The meeting started with a presentation of current and future developments associated to the European Universities initiative and EHEA: the slides can be found here (for Coimbra Group members only). Of particular interest are the planned next steps, in relation to the definition of a “vision on the Universities of the Future”, including the development of updated Skills Agenda for Europe and Digital Education Action Plan for the achievement of the E(H)EA. In 2021, a Commission proposal is expected for a Council recommendation on the European Universities initiative, including provisions on a European Degree, and on Quality Assurance, including a new framework for micro-credentials.

The meeting agenda was proposing a series of questions related to “What are the Universities of the Future?” and “The European Universities Initiative in the next Erasmus programme”. After consultation of Coimbra Group member universities (cf. letter from EB Chair sent to Rectors and Representatives), a “Coimbra Group contribution” synthetic document was created and delivered to the Commission.

On February 25th, the Coimbra Group received an official follow-up message to this stakeholders group meeting. This message reported on the “feedback from Member States and stakeholders (outcomes from meetings on 5 and 12 February 2020)” and is reproduced here:


Confirmation of the concept of European Universities

Both Member States and stakeholders believe in the concept co-created together and do not see any need to adapt it until the first European Universities provide the first outcomes of their new deeper cooperation (2022). In particular, they believe in the potential of the compromise found between excellence and inclusion, the creation of European inter-university campuses and the transdisciplinary challenge-based approach. In the meantime, they called on the Commission to work on removing the existing barriers at EU level to facilitate their transnational operation.

Call for action at European level to remove barriers

Both Member States and stakeholders welcomed the plans from the European Commission to work on micro-credentials, a European degree, the modernisation of quality assurance systems, and a possible EU statute for these European Universities, although these raised many questions on how to best address them. They support the creation of three expert groups to move this work forward together.

They also welcomed that EAC plans to organise a joint meeting between this ad-hoc expert group and representatives from the 17 European Universities in May this year to discuss more in depth the challenges that they are facing both at national and European level.

Higher budget needed

All agreed that the current Erasmus+ budget (up to Euros 5 million per alliance for 3 years) does not match the level of ambition of the initiative. All alliances report that the Erasmus+ budget corresponds to 20 to 30% of their budget needs. They called for a higher budget under the next MFF.

National support welcomed, but uneven across the EU

So far, 12 Member States (BE-FR, CZ, DE, FI, FR, HU, HR, IT, LT, PL, SK, Sl) are providing a dedicated financial support to their higher education institutions to support their activities in the European Universities, as a complement to the Erasmus+ funding. The amount of this support varies greatly from countries to countries. 6 of them also support future applicants. Three additional Member States (ES, LV, LU) plan to provide financial support this year. Other countries do not have a reserved budget available, they have already distributed all their available budget to their higher education institutions, but they provide political incentives to encourage them to participate in the European Universities initiative.

Horizon 2020 complement for the research dimension

Both Member States and stakeholders would welcome synergies between the 41 selected European Universities and Horizon 2020. They welcomed for example the post-doctoral programme set-up by the European University Eutopia, through MSCA-Cofund budget, as announced on 13 February.

European Universities under the next MFF

Both Member States and stakeholders proposed to wait 2022 before the launch of new calls to take into account the outcomes of the first European Universities. They also called for the continuation of the co-creation process together with the Commission.

They considered the following elements as key for the next calls:

– Keep the bottom-up approach and avoid imposing a single model

– Keep it open to newcomers, while providing additional budget for 4 years to the successful European Universities selected under the piloting phase

– Importance of keeping it open to a wide diversity of higher education institutions

– The current number of 41 alliances is not considered as too much (the 300s higher education institutions involved represent less than 5% of the total number of HEIs across the EU)

– Merging alliances is not seen as a way forward, but rather a closer cooperation between alliances themselves

Synergies with other EU instruments under the next MFF

Both Member States and stakeholders called for synergies between Erasmus+ and other EU instruments under the next MFF (Horizon Europe, structural funds, Digital Europe, Invest EU). However many of them expressed concerns about creating a preferential funding scheme to European Universities under other programmes like Horizon Europe, as access to EU funds is important for other higher education institutions too.

Communication on the Universities of the future

From Member States and stakeholders, it was clear that a collective vision on the Universities of the Future should build on the concept of the European Universities and should not reinvent it. This broad vision should be well communicated so that it is not seen as a different vision from the European Universities initiative, but rather a broader development aimed at the entire higher education community to work step by step towards this long-term vision, with the support of the various complementary EU instruments. The aim should be to incentivise ALL higher education institutions to accelerate their transformation towards the Universities of the Future, through the various complementary EU instruments.