Maastricht: a meeting place to transform European higher education
On 10 May, professionals working on the European Universities Initiative met in Maastricht for a Strategic Dialogue on European Universities. As a member of the YUFE Alliance, Maastricht University hosted this event in collaboration with the Institut francais in the Netherlands.
In the morning, participants shared their ideas on the common challenges identified during the initiative’s pilot period (see policy brief European Universities Association). After lunch, expert speakers presented their views in an inspirational session on the regional engagement and societal impact of European Universities. The day concluded with a political roundtable discussion on the role of member states and the European Commission in supporting European alliances in higher education.
Collected ideas & overview
- How to exploit synergies and complementarities between diverse income streams? How to increase the engagement of our communities to ensure long-term commitment through governance?
- How to encourage the Erasmus+ student mobility fund to be more supportive to innovative forms of multilateral mobility?
- How might we improve the level of alignment of expectations between relevant groups within our universities, among alliance partners, policymakers and stakeholders?
These are just a few of the 24 questions formulated by our expert facilitators who were in charge of the workshop sessions. These excellent questions triggered many great ideas that we collected in the following overview. We hope that this overview will continue to inspire participants and others with an interest in European Universities.
To conclude the morning sessions, participants pitched their best idea to each other as well as to the policymakers of the European Commission and Dutch and French ministries of education and research.
On the implementation of joint programmes participants proposed transforming the Erasmus+ mobility fund into an Erasmus+ extra fund that is adapted to the specific needs of students within the European Universities alliances.
On funding of the alliances participants proposed setting up programmes that allow alliances to apply to sustainable and impactful funding based on the purpose of the alliance.
On purpose and strategy participants proposed organising social activities among staff and students to create more connectivity and attachment to the alliance objectives.
On governance participants proposed involving local ecosystems and including small and medium business and governing bodies.
Inspirational session on the regional engagement and societal impact of European Universities
‘Not all that counts can be counted.’
The session was kicked off by a presentation from Anna Lena Claeys Kulik, policy director at European University Association. According to a large-scale consultation among members of the EUA, societal impact is viewed by European universities as an integral part of all activities and not just an add-on. Yuzhuo Cai, associate professor on European higher education at Tampere University, shared his expertise on the role of universities in innovative ecosystems and their responsibilities in fostering sustainable transitions on a local and international level. The third presenter was Astrid Boeijen, who shared best practices of the triple and quadruple helix collaborations in the region of Dutch Limburg.
Main outcomes of the presentations and panel discussion:
- Societal impact is not an add-on, but something that universities do in all their activities.
- Partnerships with actors in local innovative ecosystems contribute to sustainable transitions. European Universities should connect with their local innovative ecosystems, but also with those of other alliance partners.
- Think globally but act locally. Universities should foster impact in their (sometimes not so sexy or fancy) everyday activities.
- Triple helix models are now shifting to quadruple helix models to include civil society.
- Universities play an important role in building trust between actors, which is a precondition for collaboration. This demands a shift from technology transfer to knowledge exchange and co-creation processes. The role of universities is to be an honest broker in the ecosystem by talking the language of other actors and offering the space to meet and collaborate.
- Triple helix models are not enough to build innovative ecosystems. Higher education needs policy and framework conditions that allow universities to move forward with their own strategies.
- Open Science and open innovation (where intellectual property rights are shared within a consortium or given to society) can help foster trust in more competitive industries.
- Societal impact is a broad concept and there is a lot of focus on measuring this with quantifiable indicators. However, we should not forget the important things that are more difficult to count. Not all that counts can be counted.
Political roundtable discussion on the role of member states and the European Commission in supporting the European Universities
The programme concluded with a panel discussion joined by Tine Delva (European Commission), Tanguy Guibert (European Students Union), Peter van der Hijden (independent higher education advisor), Siegfried Martin Diaz (French Ministry of Higher Education and Research) and Annemarie de Ruiter (Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science).
- The European Commission (EC) increased the Erasmus+ funding to €1.1 billion (funding per alliance tripled compared to the pilot phase.
- The EC put in place a sustainable six-year funding programme, but stresses the commitment of member states.
- With the mid-term review and the multiannual framework, the EC will create a proposal for robust funding models for the alliances. The EC wants to work together with the member states and the European Universities to define the investment pathways.
- The EC proposed council recommendations to reform administrative barriers.
- The French Ministry of Higher Education supports the idea to raise private funding for European Universities through diversified partnerships at universities and among alliances.
- France supports the development of a single instrument that would enable alliances to submit comprehensive strategies to a fund composed by EC and member states.
- The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has long been advocating for a simplification of the Erasmus+ fund. The Netherlands supports the idea to include students in the evaluation and developments within alliances.
- The Netherlands supports European Universities with lump sums, but is interested in learning from European Universities on whether or not to include sustainable funding frameworks within the lump sum system.
- The alliances are now at a turning point to further deploy and scale-up. The EC calls for transformation at the institutional levels and acknowledges that this implies developing new governance models.
- The Dutch support the idea to include more partners in governance models and suggests to further include Universities of Applies Sciences into the alliances.
- Students are central to the functioning of a university. Instead of focusing on rankings, which are not a priority to students, administrations should include the concerns and wishes of students in the development of European Universities.
- Get actors on board, them involved in the actual work in the task teams instead of expending advisory boards.
- Social and culture initiatives within alliances demonstrate how local life is. The alliances live in the task teams and are therefore local. The international aspect is learning from each other and the benchmarking.
- Do we need a European degree? There are already 650.000 joint degrees every year. The students should be in the driving seat composing the programmes with professors.
- Funding: leave the funding rat race, take a step back, make a strategy on diversifying the funding streams and for what purpose. For collaboration for the happy few? Or new formats for all learners?