The Second European Universities Forum was hosted by the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The Second European Universities Forum brought together leaders of all 50 European Universities alliances, representatives of member states and European Commission, traditional university networks (EUA, Coimbra Group etc.) and student organisations. The main aim of the Forum was to connect various actors involved in the European Universities initiative and provide them with a space for discussion on currently pressing topics, achievements, common challenges and the future of alliances. Czech Republic was represented by two universities (Charles University, Palacký University in Olomouc). The event followed the First Forum, which was initiated by the French Presidency of the Council of the EU and took place in June 2022 in Versailles.
The two-day programme was packed with two panel discussions and eight thematic sessions. The first panel focused on the transformative potential and challenges for national governments and institutions, including the necessary reforms of national legislations that could significantly facilitate international cooperation. The guests of the second panel discussed the societal outreach of the initiative and how to bring the initiative closer to the European society. In this regard, the communication strategies and tools that could make the alliances more visible to the wider public were discussed. Also, cooperation with local and regional partners (50 alliances now cooperate with almost 1,700 different stakeholders) plays a key role in integrating universities in the local ecosystems. It´s therefore crucial to take into account the needs of (diverse) society.
European Degree label & Legal Status pilot projects reflections
Thematic sessions focused on different topics, you can read through our brief summary below. More information including concept notes and recordings can be found on the Forum website.
European Degree Label | The representatives of all 6 projects (supported within the Erasmus+ call to pilot the concept of European Degree Label) shared their experience with testing different possible criteria, with assessing how existing joint programs correspond to the proposed criteria, and with the process of designing the certificate itself. A total of 21 alliances, 17 ministries and 22 accreditation authorities are involved in the 6 projects, and one of the main outputs should be recommendations regarding a possible European Diplomma. The projects last 12 months and are currently approaching half-time. The panelists also analyzed the added value of the European Diplomma (from the students and various stakeholders point of view) and reflected on its applicability to various disciplines or regulated professions, practical matters regarding the awarding of diplommas, etc.
Legal Status of alliances | The representatives of all 4 projects (supported within the Erasmus+ call to test this tool) shared their experience with the implementation of different types of legal statuses as well as the obstacles they encountered along the way and discussed how to solve them in the future. Views on the need, dis/advantages and the concept of legal status in general differ across the alliances, also the 4 pilot projects approach this topic differently. The audience thus had the opportunity to look at the issue from several perspectives.
Monitoring framework and the future of alliances
Monitoring framework for the EUI | During the summer, the Commission published a preliminary version of the monitoring framework, which aims to assess the progress and transformative potential of the alliances and thus provide the necessary data for the preparation of the next programming and funding period. The panelists emphasized the need for flexibility (taking into account the diversity of alliances), a long-term and comprehensive approach (taking into account all university missions and synergies between them). At the same time, they recommended avoiding an excessive burden on alliances when collecting data (for this purpose, continuous monitoring reports and surveys already in place can be used).
Financial sustainability of alliances | The Commission, together with EU member states and other stakeholders, is preparing a financial framework (the Investment pathway) for European universities for the next financial period. It is based on a more complex and complementary approach. In the spirit of connecting educational activities with other missions of the alliances, the aim is to search for synergies between various financial instruments – especially between the Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe programmes, European structural funds and other funds at the national or regional level. The panelists discussed the possible direction of the new framework and mentioned that its design is not easy, also due to the complexity of higher education systems in the EU (the funding system of universities differs across countries) and the different approach to the initiative (the support for universities involved in alliances is also different in each country).
Global cooperation and the openness of alliances
Cooperation with HEIs from third countries | This session showcased various models of internationalization alliances have in place. Some alliances have established strategic partnerships with higher education institutions outside the EU from the very beginning and already started piloting joint activities. Others are (at this point) concentrating on establishing the alliance itself and are only identifying potential future partners. And some are considering whether to open up to global cooperation at all. The panelists shared their experience with regions outside the EU (especially with African and Ukrainian universities) and discussed the openness of the initiative, challenges and benefits of the "external dimension of alliances".
Quality Assurance and Automatic Recognition | The panelists discussed the needs in the field of automatic recognition and quality assurance – at the institutional, national as well as EU level. They also shared experience with their projects focusing on testing quality assurance at the alliance level and touched upon the benefits of such a mechanism and the steps necessary for quality assurance within the alliance.
Other universities missions: research, innovations, service to society
Research and innovation activities | The panellists agreed that it is important to continue to strengthen the research and innovation dimension of alliances, which is essential for both regional development and global competitiveness. Linking all the universities' missions enables more intensive cooperation between academics, students and other stakeholders, which is important for the development of skills and necessary competences, among other things. Alliances also have unique potential in advancing open science and research assessment reform. The research and innovation dimension of the alliances could be financed under the Horizon Europe programme and in the future also under the European Excellence Initiative.
Social dimension | The panellists addressed the topic of inclusion and diversity, not only from the perspective of increasing the involvement of all social groups in mobility and educational opportunities, but also from the perspective of the necessary involvement of students in the management and governance of the alliance itself.
More information, concept notes, videos and photos to be found on the Forum website.
Zdroj fotografií: španělské předsednictví.