Foreword by Jan Palmowski

In the past year there has been a remarkable growth of research, innovation and education in EU policy – and a correspondingly bigger impact of the EU on universities. Key legislative initiatives around flagship policies, on Europe’s digital transformation and the European Health Data Space, had major implications for research and higher education. The same was true for the Green Deal, whose importance intensified after the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine. Indeed, the war in Ukraine increased the role of universities at a time of acute societal need, while posing more starkly challenges around academic freedom and rules around international academic collaboration. Through the huge commitment of our members and the energy of our staff, The Guild was most prominent in articulating the concerns of research universities in all these areas.

Perhaps in no other area was The Guild as impactful as through its trusted collaboration with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA). Together we created new opportunities for dialogue, including through a bi-continental conference bringing together university presidents, research leaders and leading policymakers from the African Union and the European Union. We were delighted when the EU-AU Innovation Agenda took up our key positions, including a need for long-term investment in the research capacities of African Universities, especially through investment in infrastructure and clusters of excellence.

Through the Global Approach to Research and Innovation (R&I), the EU formulated a new strategy that included a commitment to scientific freedom and an acknowledgement about the importance of R&I in EU international relations. The growing importance of universities was also expressed in the European Strategy for Higher Education Institutions. Here we particularly welcomed the acknowledgement of our institutions as key to effecting the human rights values that also define the EU, and as places of fundamental impact through our teaching and research. Having articulated our own 2030 vision for Europe's universities, we were pleased that both documents reflected core Guild concerns. At the same time, we continued to emphasize the need for a more meaningful articulation of how the excellence of the EU’s universities could be strengthened to ensure their continued global competitiveness. Amid these wider policy discussions, The Guild never wavered in its focus on core R&I concerns. We were the first network to gather feedback on the practical operation of Horizon Europe in late 2021. We were outspoken in our push for the speedy Association of the UK and Switzerland – though 18 months into the operation of Horizon Europe, this was still not realised.

With the growing importance of universities across so many key policy domains, The Guild’s mission of enhancing the voice of universities in Brussels and beyond has never been more important. At a time of tremendous challenges and transformations for universities, our members’ sustained input and commitment has enabled us to ensure their experience and ideas are understood in Brussels. We continue to be grateful for our members’ contributions, and the collaborations with councillors, members of parliament, and commission colleagues marked by trust and respect.