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What’s new in Brussels? 2023: ACA event on recent developments in European policies and programmes

03 February 2023

On the 2nd and 3rd of February, the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) hosted its annual flagship seminar What’s new in Brussels? Recent developments in European policies and programmes. After two years, the event returned to an entirely onsite format, giving participants a full networking experience. The conference went beyond sharing the Erasmus+ Call 2023 novelties, and offered cross-cutting, globally oriented discussions of the synergies within the programme. It also allowed more comprehensive discussions based on concrete and impactful projects. 2023 What’s new in Brussels?’s agenda consisted of plenary and thematic parallel panels that horizontally integrated perspectives on both policy and practice. Coimbra Group Director was invited this year to bring the perspectives from our association in the closing plenary.

Day 1 focused on global outlooks, featuring two plenary sessions oriented on the policy and practice of global cooperation and a selection of three parallel panels that offered an in-depth look into setting up international cooperation projects in the Erasmus+ programme focusing on specific regions backed by the input from the European Commission. The opening plenary session “Using existing policy tools to address new realities in global cooperation”, moderated by Ulrich Grothus, ACA’s President, brought interesting insights on issues such as foreign interference and the need to balance openness and protection at universities, the importance of a values-oriented approach in multilateral dialogue, and the paradigm of responsible internationalization that becomes increasingly needed in the current state of world affairs. The audience had a chance to listen to the strategies and experiences coming from Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the perspective of the European Commission represented by speakers from the Directorate-General Research and Innovation and Directorate-General Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.

The second plenary panel debates built upon the practical angle of global cooperation. Julia Linder from DAAD’s Center for International Academic Collaborations, Olga Belova, an International Project Manager of Alianza 4 Universidades and Peter Gill from Delft University of Technology talked about how the openness of cooperation and the need for a risk assessment looks in their daily job at different levels and showcased practices that work best in their experience. These included steps oriented at academic staff, such as travel risk assessment or guidelines to help them make informed decisions, and at students concerning banking issues, travel and costs. All panellists emphasized the significance of the university’s approach, the structures in place and the role of forming a team that will be able to advise and tackle problems.  

In the parallel session focused on Eastern Europe, participants got familiar with Erasmus+ Actions open to Eastern Partnership Countries and details about budget allocation across them, as well as country statistics concerning each action. Importantly, participants could learn that funds allocated to activities with Russia in 2021 have been progressively moved to EP countries. Kinga Bereza-Husak from DG EAC also discussed the objectives driving Eastern Partnership policy in the new political context, providing a broader perspective on steps taken by the Commission and future plans. In the second presentation, Selma Porobic from AURORA Alliance introduced the Aurora CDS initiative aimed at strengthening the capacity for academic excellence and societal relevance in Central and Eastern Europe and Neighbouring Countries and its support actions for Karazin University in Ukraine, thanks to which concrete results were achieved such as Karazin’s Educational Mission in exile.

The second day of ACA’s seminar started with a timely discussion on how to operationally approach internationalization activities when, on the one hand, the Erasmus+ budget is set to increase gradually, and, on the other, national funding is showing signs of decline, while in addition to this, many institutions are facing unprecedented energy costs. Speakers elaborated on the need for synergies between funds and policies and called for a change in the way of thinking about EU budget distribution, including a more trust-oriented approach. Exchanges also emphasized the need for using knowledge and skills acquired in the pandemic in other crises, mainly building upon resilience and flexibility learnt, and the role of university alliances work in this regard.

During the parallel session Digital transformation, Yann-Maël Bideau from DG EAC presented the EU initiatives dedicated to shaping Europe’s fit for a digital age, highlighting Erasmus+ funding opportunities such as Blended Intensive Programmes (BIPs), which are oriented at innovating in learning and teaching and stimulating digital education. Following his presentation, Chahira Nouira, the Instructional Designer at the University of Göttingen, introduced the digital transformation process at her institution. The case highlighted the importance of integrating efforts at the strategic level and across the faculties and institutes while transferring solutions implemented in different projects and harnessing the potential of available EU funding.

The closing plenary wrapped up the event by addressing the role of different types of institutional-level collaboration in generating institutional transformations: “Institutional transformation(s) through inter-institutional cooperation – encompassing or localised?”. In the discussion moderated by ACA’s Director Irina Ferencz, Emmanuelle Gardan, the Director of Coimbra Group Office, together with colleagues representing DG EAC, Erasmus Student Network and KU Leuven, elaborated on collaboration approaches and landscape and the impact it generates.

Significantly, speakers didn’t skip the challenges, drawing attention to the fragmented nature of cooperation influence, the risks of leaving aside institutions that haven’t engaged in alliances, and the lack of prospective sustainable funding. Emmanuelle Gardan provided several examples of what the participation of several CG members to EU Alliances has brought to the previous dynamics within CG as a network, and how do CG members navigate these different identities and layers of participation. She also underlined the reciprocal interactions happening between the work undertaken through the alliances and the activities and peer-learning taking place within the CG Working Groups.

One crucial takeaway is to work toward balancing the involvement in the different cooperation frameworks with a strategic perspective, as featured by the example of KU Leuven Vice-Rector Peter Lievens about engagement with Coimbra Group to consolidate cooperation with Latin American partners. Discussions also pointed to the need to adopt a long-term perspective focused on complementarity, a proven CG network model, and to increase student’s awareness and role in international university cooperation through initiatives such as bringing together ESN local representatives and CG universities.