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Second exchange of views with Commissioner Mariya Gabriel

30 September 2020

Professors Ludovic Thilly and Jürgen Barkhoff, respectively Chair and Vice-Chair of the Executive Board, and Emmanuelle Gardan, Brussels Office Director, met online with the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth on September 11, a few weeks after the first bilateral meeting. The discussion revolved around the development of digital education and virtual exchange across Europe and new perspectives to strengthen the links between the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the higher education, research and innovation sectors.

“We are at a point of no return for digital education: physical and virtual learning/teaching goes hand in hand. Let’s turn the current crisis into an opportunity to enhance, accelerate and scale up good practice in this area”. All participants completely agreed with this statement from Commissioner Gabriel, who praised the expertise and accumulated experience of an established network such as the Coimbra Group for informing policy-making in these fields.

Particular emphasis was placed by the EB Chair and Vice-Chair on the key challenges that the European Commission should address in the new Digital Education Plan (DEAP): digital inclusiveness, assessment of learning outcomes, professional development of educators, data privacy and ethics. These are among other recommendations in the Coimbra Group position paper on the new DEAP. The Commissioner expressed her appreciation of this position paper, as it is very much in line with the European Commission’s current thinking. In view of the actual implementation of the new DEAP she added that the European University Alliances are expected to be drivers in tackling these issues in practice and showing the way forward.

Commissioner Gabriel also strongly agreed with the need voiced by the Coimbra Group to strengthen and operationalise the links between digital learning and teaching, virtual exchange and internationalisation. This will be the focus of the next Coimbra Group High-Level webinar on Education Policy scheduled on December 3-4.

During the meeting, some strategic initiatives under development in the Coimbra Group were discussed with the Commissioner to explore in a win-win perspective the potential synergies with the wider policy context at European level:

  • 1) The first one, launched by the Coimbra Group Executive Board in response to the COVID-19 crisis, aims to extend the association’s longstanding experience with physical mobility to virtual mobility – not to replace it, but to further enhance and support it. This initiative follows the same “platform approach” that has always prevailed at the Coimbra Group and which consists in pooling resources, learning from your peers and sharing expertise and best practice among trusted partners. The European Commissioner should harness expertise from all over Europe and bring the different actors together to professionalise this move towards blended learning and blended mobility.


  • 2) The second one relates to the UN SDGs that are going to be the common thread of a series of Coimbra Group policy discussions and strategic activities next year, particularly at the public conference of the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Coimbra Group at Charles University in Prague (June 15-18) with Commissioner Gabriel as keynote speaker, as well as at the high-level research policy seminar scheduled in Geneva in the autumn of 2021. This event “The Coimbra Group meets the UN” will tackle the reciprocal impact of the UN SDGs on research and innovation and vice-versa. Pointing out that 84% of Horizon 2020 projects to date are contributing to the UN SDGs and highlighting a number of challenges (lack of indicators, etc.), the European Commissioner expressed her explicit support to the Coimbra Group for these initiatives and readiness for cooperation in these crucial areas.

The quality of exchange and frequency of these meetings is a clear testimony, at the highest European level, to the value of the longstanding work of the whole Coimbra Group community. The Executive Board will make sure to continue its exchange with the European Commissioner on the association’s strategic reflections and developments.