European strategy for universities: progress and perspectives

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Since the end of 2017, the EU institutions and the member states’ governance have elaborated a number of initiatives (following the Gothenburg Summit) aimed at reforming the EU-wide vision for education and culture. Thus, the European strategy for universities aims at supporting and enabling universities to adapt to changing conditions, to thrive and to contribute to Europe’s resilience and recovery.  

    As skills needs for perspective sustainable growth are rapidly evolving, the European higher education sector has to adapt: e.g. the green and digital transitions require future-proof education, research and innovation, in close cooperation with the related industries and with eliminating significant disparities in digital skills across the EU member states. Students and national workforce have to be equipped with the necessary “green & digital skills”, and the innovation and technological potential of universities are supposed to tackle related societal challenges. The European targets by 20230 are that at least 45% of 25-34 year-olds obtains tertiary level attainment, and at least 60% of adults shall participate in active learning. Present European “digital decade” sets ambitious targets, aiming at 80% of people with at least basic digital skills and 20 million ICT specialists employed by 2030.
To succeed, the European strategy for universities requires alignment of policy priorities and investments at EU, national, regional and institutional levels; implementation of this strategy will require closer cooperation among the member states, universities and all other interested partners.
References to: Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030), Official Journal C 66, 26.2.2021, p. 1–21; the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, end Communication COM (2021) 118 final.

The following spheres were included: innovative, globally competitive and attractive European Education Area and European Research Area (in full synergy with the European Higher Education Area); helping the states to boost the excellence dimension of higher education, research and innovation; promoting gender equality, inclusiveness, and equity; allowing for effective transnational cooperation among higher education institutions in Europe, and inspiring the transformation of higher education.

The EU-university’s concept
European Universities are transnational alliances (EUTAs) were created to “lead the way towards the universities of the future, promoting European values and identity and revolutionizing the quality and competitiveness of European higher education”.
The term “university” is used in the EU education policy as a reference to broader education-research sectors, representing the entire area of tertiary education: thus it includes all types of higher education institutions/universities, higher research facilities, university colleges, universities of applied sciences, higher vocational education and training institutions, as well as higher culture and art institutions.

To achieve these ambitious goals, the EUTA-initiative is offering opportunities to support diverse cooperation models for European Universities with the financial support from the EU institutions: the initiative is presently an integral part of the Erasmus+ 2021-2027 program. There are presently 50 European Universities involving more than 430 higher education institutions in the 35 European states, including EU-27, as well as Iceland, the Republic of North-Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
The alliances are also having almost 1,700 associated partners ranging from non-governmental organisations, enterprises, cities to local and regional authorities, etc.

The EUTAs activities are numerous, e.g. they “associate” partners from all types of higher education institution and cover a broad geographic scope across Europe; the activities are based on long-term strategies focused on sustainability, excellence and European values; they offer “student-centered” curricula jointly delivered across inter-university campuses, where diverse student bodies can build their own programs and experience mobility at all levels of study; they adopt a challenge-based approach according to which students, academics and external partners can cooperate in inter-disciplinary teams to tackle the biggest issues facing European states.
European University alliances are bringing together a new generation of Europeans who are able to study and work in different European countries, using different languages, and “moving” across sectors and academic disciplines. Thanks to these alliances, students can obtain a degree by combining studies in several European countries, which contributes to the international competitiveness of higher education institutions in Europe.

Presented in January 2022, the European strategy for universities sets the ambition to support 60 European Universities involving more than 500 higher education institutions by mid-2024. For this, a record of € 1.1 billion under Erasmus+ is foreseen under the current programming period 2021-2027. Support for the research dimension of European Universities can be sought under the European Excellence initiative under Horizon Europe.
In autumn 2023, the Commission will open the 2024 Erasmus+ call for proposals, with the aim of reaching the goal of the European strategy for universities to expand to 60 European Universities with more than 500 universities by mid-2024.
Source: Communication (Strasbourg), 18.1.2022, COM (2022) 16 final.


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