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The Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the Universities

31 January 2023

Rector Milena Králíčková, Charles University

The Czech Republic took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on July 1, 2022, and finished it at the end of December the same year. The preparations at all levels of the State and society had started a few years ago already. The priorities initially settled had to be changed dramatically after the attack of the Russian Federation on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Czech Universities, together with other European Universities, assisted with providing places and necessary support for refugee students and colleagues, teaching online courses for Ukrainian Universities, and assisting in teaching and research activities. Coimbra Group (CG) and the European University Alliances have coordinated these activities.

Assistance to Ukraine, and inclusion of Ukrainian students and academics, therefore became one of the priorities of the Czech Presidency and a major task for universities. The topic of inclusion of Ukrainian students and pupils was addressed as a crosscutting priority in all the debates on education and training. The Presidency opened the discussions with this topic at all Directors-General meetings (DG Schools, DG Vocational Education and Training, DG Higher Education) and two High Level Group meetings, where very concrete issues were discussed. Member States and representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education exchanged on the lessons learned and shared their best practices.

Let me emphasise several crucial activities of the Czech Presidency with the trace of Coimbra Group. On 21-22 November, 2022 an international conference, CZEDUCON, on Strategy and policy in Higher Education dealing with internationalisation was held in Prague. The conference was attended by educational authorities from Member States of the EU, representatives of the European Commission, HEIs and students. The event was opened by the Czech Minister of Education Vladimír Baláš and Sophia Waterschoot Eriksson, Director for Youth, Education and Erasmus+ at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture. I had the honour to represent Charles University and mention the importance of international cooperation during Covid and especially now vis-à-vis the situation in Ukraine. In the following panels Professor Ludovic Thilly, the Chair of the Coimbra Group Executive Board, commented on “Coimbra Group and Erasmus Student Network: on Pan-European collaboration and the European Strategy for Universities”. Professor Lenka Rovná, Member of the Coimbra Group Executive Board, spoke about the preparations for the call on the European Degree Label and Charles University’s experiences with Joint Degrees.

At the meeting of the Directors of Education from the EU Member States, EFTA countries, and Ukraine, dedicated to the European Strategy for Universities, the importance of European Universities associations and alliances were debated with special focus on 4EU+ (Charles University, Heidelberg University and Geneva are members of CG).

The European Universities Forum was held in Olomouc on December 1-2, 2022, and the experiences of several Alliances were shared. Coimbra Group was represented by its Head of Office Emmanuelle Gardan. Charles University hosted on December 12-13, 2022, the Education Committee of the Council of the EU.

I have counted 33 conferences and meetings relevant for education held under the Czech Presidency, whether in the Czech Republic or in Brussels. It is not the quantity, but quality of cooperation that matters. I deeply believe that the Czech Presidency has contributed to the deepening of cooperation between HEIs in Europe in the field of education. The Covid crisis and the crisis in Ukraine teach us that we need each other even more, and that solving problems can be done only together. One of the downsizes of the Presidency lies with the still unsolved issue of stronger synergies between research and education. Universities cannot separate these two.