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​The Next Opportunity for Higher Education: European Universities

12 November 2019

On Thursday 7 November, ELIA’s Head of Communication and Membership, Barbara Revelli, attended the European Commission’s conference on the European Universities Initiative, financed under the Erasmus+ programme.

New Call for Funding 

After the first call in spring 2019 in which 54 applications were received and 17 European University alliances, including 114 higher education institutions from 24 member states, were funded, the call for the second round of applications was announced just last week.

The conference harnessed the great deal of excitement by encouraging and offering advice to institutions regarding applications for this newly-launched second round.
“We want to break down barriers and create a common vision,” said Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, European Commission (DG EAC) in her opening speech, “to make Europe fit for the digital era… to serve society and have a positive impact on wellbeing”.
“Universities will become what they were always meant to be,” Christophidou continued, “communities of continuous learning to which people can come back to upskill and reskill.”

After explaining the differences from the first call – which include an increased budget financing a total of 24 alliances and an application process conformed to the Horizon 2020 system – the Commission called upon the higher education sector to submit innovative proposals which involve students and staff along with their full commitment to attempting radical change.

“Don’t try to copy the 17 selected proposals,” said Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Unit, European Commission, (DG EAC), as she carefully explained the rationale of the geographical consortium and encouraged potential alliances to focus on strategy, implementation and measurement factors in the application.
Vanessa Debiais-Sainton also emphasized that the Commission is seeking alliances with long-term ambitions, going beyond the budget and time frame of the funding and that “dare to dream”, involving students and staff into radical changes of the sector.

“Students can be the actors of their education… they can be trained on the most innovative challenges and work in collaboration and with a transdisciplinary approach,” said Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Unit, European Commission, (DG EAC).
Daniela Trani, Director of one of the winning consortia, the Alliance YUFE – Young Universities for the Future of Europe, suggested including students in the driver’s seat and using new methods of co-creation as open and living labs to deal with the challenges that universities are facing.
In this same line, the speakers emphasized how proposals for the second call should look beyond their scope, think of inclusion and inclusiveness and how these new experimental methods should be disseminated and shared with other institutions.

Here, colleagues from the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) clearly mentioned that this is where networks come into the picture, to be the counterpart of the Commission and to support the collaboration in the sector. ELIA members applying to the 2020 and future calls are welcome to contact our office for support and advice.
On the same note, Blaženka Divjak, Minister of Science and Education in Croatia, underlined how their upcoming EU Presidency (January 2020) will have inclusiveness as one of their priorities, particularly referring to the West Balkans and the inclusion of the EU applicants’ countries.
When asked if universities that were successful in the first call could apply again the answer was that it is not forbidden, but it is strongly discouraged.

European Universities Initiative

The conference additionally addressed the ambitions and challenges of the European Universities Initiative.
Firstly, it was stated that even the increased budget of €5 million for European Universities does not come close to the amount needed to achieve the ambitions of the consortia, specifically those of reaching 50% mobility. The Commission representatives encouraged institutions to look into other complementary funding options, such as Horizon 2020 or Mobility and Strategic Partnerships inside Erasmus+; or to approach the national governments who may allocate additional funds to selected alliance institutions.
Secondly, the issue of the 50% mobility goal was addressed. The Commission realises the sustainable dilemma surrounding the CO2 footprint of this goal, as well as other challenges it offers, most predominantly the inability of universities to provide affordable accommodation. Digital mobility was mentioned several times as the most logical, if only partial, solution.

More higher arts education institutions?

There are still some unanswered questions regarding what will happen with the Erasmus+ funding scheme after 2022. Still, there is a great deal of enthusiasm for a bottom-up initiative that would aim to bring education forward as the main channel of change and innovation.

Tiziana D’Achille, Director of the Fine Arts Academy of Rome and representative of EU4ART, the fine art consortium selected from the first call, was present at the event and she underlined how art has always been a model for the formation and fostering of European identity.
The need for more participation and transdisciplinary approaches mentioned by many at the conference, calls for a higher involvement of arts universities.

ELIA will continue to follow these developments and keep our members informed as best as possible.
The deadline for the Call for funding is 26 February 2020. Find out more information here. 

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