CG Survey results: European Universities Initiative & Student engagement
19 April 2023
Background: European Universities Initiative – Coimbra Group
Since the very start in 2018, the Coimbra Group has been actively involved in the co-design process of the European Universities initiative with the EC and has made the strong political choice to provide support to all member Universities during the calls. From the beginning, the Coimbra Group believed that, as a pan-European network, we could have a crucial role to play in supporting future Alliances. Our goal was to transform the “Alliances of European Universities” initiative into a multiplier and not a divider of the historical cooperation that exists between our member universities.
The Coimbra Group has also been closely monitoring the developments in this initiative, serving as a platform to bring and exchange together the experiences and learning of Coimbra Group member universities involved in developing Alliances and beyond. Besides being associated partner in a number of Alliances on knowledge sharing and dissemination, the Coimbra Group developed a recurring section in its monthly Newsletter and organises a series of open sessions on the European Universities’ alliances.
Background: ESN – Coimbra Group
Following years of collaboration, the Erasmus Student Network and the Coimbra Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in June 2021, in view of increasing cooperation, foster internationalisation, civic engagement & active citizenship at all levels. Both organisations share a strong commitment to student mobility and to impactful internationalisation that benefits the whole society.
The MoU aims to expand the successful collaboration on policy issues at the European level, involving directly CG member Universities and ESN local sections to develop and organise joint activities at the local level to foster active participation of international students in the local communities. Since then, both organizations have held several meetings, discussing how to further improve the cooperation between CG universities and ESN local sections and how to work together towards improving mobility in higher education, also sharing good practices of joint collaboration.
Coimbra Group Survey on student representation and engagement in University Alliances
The Coimbra Group carried out a short survey on student representation and engagement at the European University Alliances where CG members are represented. This study gathered feedback from all 8 alliances, to whom we would like to deeply thank for their fast and comprehensive responses..
The provisional results of this consultation were presented in the Erasmus Generation Meeting 2023 and will help the Coimbra Group in getting a broad vision about the importance of student representation in the alliances, as well as an overview on the engagement of students in the initiative. It will feed into future work in this area, also in view of the further roll out of European University Alliances, and help shape Coimbra Group support and position in the matter. Preliminary results were presented and discussed in a session on the topic of student representation and engagement in alliances, during the Erasmus Generation meeting, taking place in Bucharest, 6-9 April.
36 out of the 40 Coimbra Group universities are now a member of an Alliance:
- 4EU+ (Heidelberg, Geneva, Prague),
- Arqus (Granada, Graz, Padova, Vilnius),
- CHARM-EU (Barcelona, Budapest, Dublin, Montpellier, Utrecht, Würzburg, Åbo, Bergen),
- Circle U. (Aarhus, Louvain),
- EC2U (Coimbra, Iaşi, Jena, Pavia, Poitiers, Salamanca, Turku),
- ENLIGHT (Galway, Göttingen, Groningen, Tartu, Uppsala),
- EUniWell (Cologne, Leiden),
- Una Europa (Bologna, Edinburgh, Kraków, Leiden, Leuven).
Students are represented at all levels of the 8 alliances’ governance bodies, except in 4EU+, where the Governing Board is composed of the President or Rectors of the 7 universities.
However, students don’t have a formal voting right in two of our respondents: ENLIGHT and Una Europa. Nevertheless, ENLIGHT specified that in this alliance there is no formal voting procedure: decisions are made on the basis of consensus – students participate on equal foot in decision making, being represented at all levels of governance.
While trying to reach all groups/levels of students, the alliances developed different strategies, from involving the local universities’ Student Unions to engaging students in the different bodies and activities as part of the co-creation process of the alliance, and even by the creation of an alliance’s student union.
The 8 alliances are conscientious about the difficulties in raising awareness in all student groups of their member universities about the alliance’s existence, concept and objectives. However there is visibly an effort in incrementing the student engagement in the activities of the alliance and this seems to be a priority in all surveyed alliances. Still, the general feeling is that much needs to be done yet in this field.
What is also clear is that there are numerous challenges in what concerns communication from the Alliances to the students. The massive heterogeneity and diversity of the student population in all the institutions that form one alliance, allied with their subsequent different nationalities, cultures, languages, values, academic schedules is at the same time its strength but at the same time a major challenge in international cooperation.
Other respondents mention the students’ information overload in actual times, which may create noise around the alliances’ communication. Also the gap between communication tools is indicated as one difficulty – students tend to innovate and adapt to the last communication apps, whereas universities (and consequently alliances) may take some time to adjust their means of communication. Some alliances also suggest that there is lack of visibility given to Alliances in their member universities, which hinders the awareness process towards the academic community in general. Continuity in student engagement is also a relevant question, given the roll up of academic life.
The 8 alliances are committed to promoting meaningful student engagement. For the future, numerous initiatives are foreseen to improve in this field also. Plans include encouraging and increasing mobility, collaboration with local student associations, an increase in student-led initiatives (with financial support), better forms of recognition, the use of student ambassadors. They would also like to increment their presence in the communication media towards students, also by e.g. being present in the institutions’ welcome days.