A look back at The Guild Forum on European Universities
On 5 December 2019 The Guild Forum on the European Universities Initiative offered an opportunity to consider the academic priorities and challenges presented by European Universities. The discussion came at a critical moment, when the first European Universities kicked off their activities, the second pilot call had been published, and when policymakers began turning their minds to the full implementation phase in the next Erasmus+ programme.
The keynote speakers, Director-General Themis Christophidou, and Minister Valérie Glatigny, set the scene for the panel discussions highlighting the importance of universities' service to society and the unique opportunity of European Universities to reinforce synergies between education and research. Both praised the enthusiasm of universities across Europe and at the same time signalled that the expectations were very high. “Students should be the first beneficiaries of investment made into higher education institutions” pointed out Minster Glatigny.
In the first panel discussion, Stanisław Kistryn (Jagiellonian University, UNA Europa), presented UNA Europa’s first priorities in developing a better balance between education, research and innovation, by placing education at a more equal footing with research. Responding to a core question about whether the initiative is about excellence or inclusiveness, Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot (DG EAC) underscored that there are no trade-offs between the two, highlighting different ways to measure excellence. Linking the initiative with the European Research Area, Apostolia Karamali (DG RTD) explained how Horizon Europe would support the institutional transformation within the alliances, especially in areas such as Open Science, outreach to society and human capital. Vincent Blondel, The Guild’s Chair and Rector of UCLouvain concluded that even though requests for interdisciplinarity challenge the traditional ways of teaching and the very structure of universities, being part of an alliance offers opportunities to learn from each other about recruitment, promotion and teaching practices, through bottom-up initiatives.
The panellists discussed the added value of engaging with the local and regional context as an alliance. Vanessa Debiais-Sainton (DG EAC) mentioned examples such as mapping the skills needed in the regions to upgrade study programmes, opening courses to a more diverse group of learners and developing challenge-based projects allowing students to work with partners outside of academia. Christine Neuhold (Maastricht University, YUFE) emphasised that their alliance is about “thinking out of the box and working with different partners”, while Stuart Croft (University of Warwick, EUTOPIA) discussed the importance of granularity in local engagement: whilst universities needed to support citizen science, they also needed to engage in disadvantaged local communities where needs and capacities were very different.
Our final panel focused on European Universities in a global context. Although international partners cannot formally take part in the initiative, our panellists noted that they are interested in the initiative as a gateway to new partners in Europe. One such example was presented by Monique Scheer (University of Tübingen, CIVIS) who pointed out that the futures of Europe and Africa are intertwined, and outlined how CIVIS was seeking to integrate African partners in its workstreams. Vivienne Stern (Universities UK) underlined the importance of maintaining a close collaboration with UK and Swiss universities, as she could see substantial interest amongst UK universities in this initiative. Whilst supporting the openness of alliances to partners beyond Europe, at least as associated partners, Klaus Birk (Erasmus+ Agency Higher Education at DAAD), also pointed to the existing Erasmus+ activities in supporting European Universities' international dimension.
The Guild wishes to thank everyone who contributed to the event and invites those who were not able to join us in Brussels to watch the full livestream recording here.
You can read more about The Guild Forum covered by Research Professional here.