What does von der Leyen's State of the Union address mean for universities?

Taking a stock of the past year, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her second State of the Union address on 15 September. The Guild Secretary-General Jan Palmowski shares his reflections on the speech and its implications for universities.

On pandemic response, von der Leyen focused on Europe's delivery of vaccines, but this was only possible because of the excellence of our frontier research which developed key vaccines. Here as elsewhere, the importance of excellent science as the backbone of Europe's future was implicit, and should have been made explicit.

Digital was defined as a make or break issue in her speech. Here at least world-class science was mentioned, and the need to connect it to the European innovation eco-system. However, globally competitive European research on artificial intelligence and digital must be nurtured and never taken for granted.

On climate change, it is clear that universities are a major part of the solution through their research, their behaviours and their students - but the challenge is clear for everyone to do more.

Von der Leyen also highlighted Global Gateway partnerships in her address which is an attempt for the EU to define future-looking partnerships on an equitable basis. Universities can help lead the way by investing in long-term capacity building partnerships in science. It was also great to hear President von der Leyen's commitment to the EU-AU strategic partnership.

Finally, where universities have perhaps the greatest opportunity to contribute is von der Leyen's insistence on Europe's 'soul' - this comes with a deep understanding of our culture, of what binds us. Universities are integral to this common culture, they have connected us in very special ways for almost a millennium. And universities are in a unique position to link this heritage to the future, as their students articulate and live this soul for tomorrow.

Published Sep. 16, 2021 9:18 AM - Last modified Sep. 29, 2021 12:45 PM