European Commission presents Strategy for Universities
Europe is facing enormous challenges such as climate change, digitalisation and an ageing population and at the same time is affected by the biggest global health crisis of the century and its economic consequences. Universities can make an important contribution in addressing these challenges through their unique position at the intersection of education, research and innovation.
They are not only a place of civic education, but also a link between non-commercial research and industry. In this way, they contribute to Europe's international competitiveness.
The focus of the European Strategy for Universities is on transnational and inter-university cooperation. The excellence of research is to be promoted both through multidisciplinary research approaches and through the increased inclusion of hitherto disadvantaged social groups.
The EU Commission plans to achieve four concrete goals by mid-2024:
1. Increase the number of European Universities from currently 41 to 60.
The European Universities Initiative, which promotes the collaboration of European higher education institutions across borders, is to bring about sustainable and systematic cooperation in Europe in the areas of education, research and innovation. To this end, more than 500 higher education institutions are to be supported in 60 alliances with a budget of 1.1 billion euros from Erasmus+.
2. Developing a legal statute for European university alliances
Due to different legal frameworks in the Member States, effective cooperation between higher education institutions within the the European Universities Initiative is currently associated with a high level of bureaucracy and thus complex. The EU's goal is to strengthen sustainable transnational cooperation within the European Universities Initiative by creating a separate legal personality so that higher education institutions within European university alliances can better pool their capacities and resources. This includes a simplified exchange of scientists and the accreditation of joint study programmes. A pilot project in Erasmus+ is planned for 2022.
3. The development of a joint European degree.
This should result in a reduced administrative burden in the implementation of joint study programmes and the cross-border recognition of university degrees.
4. The expansion of the "European Student Card" initiative
By issuing an individual digital student ID, the European Commission plans to advance the already existing initiative for a European student card. Starting in 2022 with mobile students within the framework of Erasmus+, this is to be extended to all students enrolled at a European higher education institution by mid-2024.
Overall, the European higher education sector sees the strategy paper as a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, there is a certain scepticism about effective implementation. The reasons for this are the tight timeframe for achieving the goals by 2024 and the question of effective funding. In addition, higher education lies within the competences of the Member States, which means that the concrete implementation of the proposals depends strongly on the political willingness for national reforms. This is particularly important with regard to the introduction of a joint European degree and a European student card.
In a next step, the European Commission invites the Council, the Member States and the higher education sector to discuss the political agenda. The French Presidency plans to adopt a Council recommendation to facilitate effective European higher education cooperation with the responsible ministers in April 2022.