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Highlights for Universities from the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the areas of Research, Innovation and Higher Education

30 July 2021

Amílcar Falcão, Rector and Cláudia Cavadas, Vice-Rector for Research, University of Coimbra

In the framework of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (PPEU) that occurred in the first semester of 2021, several conclusions, manifestos and declarations were delivered in the areas of Research, Innovation and Higher Education, where Universities are key players. They relate to three main issues:

1) Stimulating attractive research careers across Europe;
2) Mobilising the Research and Innovation (R&I) funding programme – Horizon Europe – along with the Next Generation EU      recovery package, in order to stimulate green and digital transitions across Europe;
3) Advancing scenarios for Higher Education.

The main events and contributions in these areas are outlined in a booklet edited by Portugal’s Minister for Science and Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor – “Utopia and Knowledge”.

In the aftermath of the unprecedented world crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the above-mentioned issues are believed to have the potential to prepare and build a resilient recovery of Europe; in order to achieve that, the contribution of universities is paramount. For the sake of relevance, this editorial will focus on those conclusions that have more of an impact on Europe’s Universities.

The Council of the European Union delivered conclusions on
“Deepening the European Research Area (ERA): Providing researchers with attractive and sustainable careers and working conditions and making brain circulation a reality”which identify as top priorities improving skills and training for early-stage careers, along with providing PhD candidates with sustainable, predictable and attractive careers. In order to achieve this, the Council also points to the need for inter-sectorial, virtual and international mobility of researchers, the promotion of interdisciplinary approaches and of a set of research related skills, and the reinforcement of Open Science practices in research and development activities. At the University of Coimbra we are addressing these challenges in various ways, for instance by developing new models of doctoral schools, with interdisciplinary approaches and innovation initiatives; by disseminating gender and sex in the context and content of research activities (see the GendER@UC initiative), and by recognising the importance of Open Science and reinforcing its related activities transversally.

The Council also delivered conclusions on the European Universities Initiative that is expected to “pave the way for a new dimension in European higher education”. The European Universities Initiative is crucial for the implementation of innovative models of digital higher education, for boosting research and Open Science, for providing people with relevant skills for jobs and also for making lifelong learning and talent circulation a reality. The University of Coimbra is part of a European University alliance, the European Campus of City-Universities (EC2U) – a multi-cultural and multi-lingual Alliance of seven long-standing, education- and research-led universities – all members of the Coimbra Group – from four diverse regions of the European Union. For the success and sustainability of the European Universities Initiative, the support given by each Member State at different levels, from funding to flexibility of degrees, is critical.

Other relevant manifestos and declarations issued during the Portuguese Presidency include:

Of note is the Lisbon declaration on Humanities, Open research and Innovation, in which universities are called to integrate, transversally, course units on humanities through all levels of education, including at doctoral levels. This manifesto encourages humanities scholars to engage actively in research, education and innovation activities under “open science principles” and in close collaboration with activities throughout different disciplines, contributing to new modes of knowledge production and dissemination. The University of Coimbra is one of the signatory institutions of this manifesto and is ready to cooperate with Coimbra Group members to take all these priorities forward.

The six months of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union have contributed to relevant debates and conclusion in the areas of Research, Innovation and Higher Education. Universities are the magnet and students the key element to achieve a green and digital transition paving the way for the future of Europe’s Universities and for the European Knowledge Area.