Go back

Widening and deepening integration among European universities

18 December 2020

Professors Francesco Ubertini, Rosario Rizzuto, Francesco Svelto and Francesco Frati, respectively Rectors of the Universities of Bologna, Padova, Pavia and Siena


The virtual EHEA Rome 2020 Conference and the subsequent Ministerial Communiqué have marked two further steps in the process of constructing a truly European Higher Education system. Twenty-one years after the Bologna Declaration, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is today the largest educational area in the world. The pandemic outbreak has certainly detracted public attention from this important achievement, but it must not stop us from pursuing the goals of widening and, above all, deepening integration among European universities.

The four Italian members of the Coimbra Group of European Universities are proud to play their part in this process. Bologna was happy to organize and host an ideal “kick-off”: the Bologna Process Beyond 2020 conference. Padua, Pavia and Siena have strongly supported this effort. Our universities constantly number among those most internationalized in Italy, and data on Erasmus mobility (both incoming and outbound) clearly testify to their European commitment.

Building on the motto “strength in numbers”, our membership in the Coimbra Group strengthens our spirit and our conviction. But we also believe that we must embark on a new, more ambitious phase for European universities, providing a decisive impulse. This is the right moment, even in the middle of the pandemic: we must be ready for when everything is over. The Covid-19 emergency has shown the world that the best weapon to cope with these threats is knowledge.

Three important tasks therefore await us. The first is to defend the inclusiveness and academic freedom of European Universities as inalienable pillars of our institutions and our mission. Without free universities, there is no Europe. These will protect Europe from any anti-democratic, antiscientific or antihumanitarian tendencies.

The second task is to implement a new concept of mobility, adopting the innovative virtual tools developed in 2020, alongside our traditional instruments (Erasmus for studies, traineeships, mobility of researchers, teachers and staffs). We are particularly glad to see how our universities have adapted rapidly to virtual exchanges and collaborative teaching. This will help us build a truly innovative system of education, in line with two essential goals of our European policy: inclusiveness and sustainability.

The third task is to promote a rational, pragmatic approach to coordinating between Education and research and innovation. Once again, 2020 has provided us with precious experience. Digitalization and the launching of innovative, cross-disciplinary programs will change our “way of thinking” our social mission, from education to research: to produce knowledge, allowing it to become part of a common heritage, and make new ideas available for a better society.

Although we did not shake hands during the Rome 2020 conference, we now feel closer and shall be even closer in the years to come.