University alliances: ways to reform EU-wide and states’ education policies

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The European University Alliances, EUAs are having already a turbulent history: initiated in 2018, there presently about 50 universities’ networks from numerous European countries “uniting” 430 higher education institutions, HEIs in 35 countries. The process is really revolutionizing the EU-wide education and training, however not without some drawbacks.  

The EUA’s specific impact on the educational policies in the 27 member states lies in the apparent evidence that the initiative serves as a vital practical “instrument” in the EU-wide reform process of higher education. Practically, the European University Alliances, EUAs presently unite 50 networks of universities from numerous European countries “uniting” 430 higher education institutions, HEIs in 35 countries, attracting around 1,700 associated partners, including 30 Ukrainian universities.
The unifying trend is evident: initially, in 2018, about 280 higher education institutions from the EU member states and some remote European regions were involved in creating European-wide alliances in main spheres of modern education. Each alliance was composed, generally, of seven higher education institutions; some alliances were “comprehensive” covering all disciplines, others were focusing, e.g. on sustainable development, health and well-being, digitalisation, artificial intelligence, art, culture, engineering, space, etc.
Already in July 2022 the Commission reported that there some 44 European universities alliances involving 340 higher education institutions. After the 2023 Erasmus+ call, the number of EUAs increased to 50, involving more than 430 HEIs; the outcome is closer to the ultimate goal of expanding the initiative to create 60 European Universities with more than 500 participating HEIs by mid-2024. Financial support is increasing as well: the overall budget to support the EUs initiative reached €402.2 million from the Erasmus+ program; it means that each alliance would receive up to €14.4 million for four years. Initially, each alliance received about €5 million from the Erasmus+ program.

The EUAs in the present form have been formed after four successive Erasmus+ funding calls aimed at establishing “multi-campus” universities in order to “expedite international collaboration in teaching, research and community engagement among European universities”.


Controversies and realities
It has to be kept in mind in the first place, that education, according to the EU’s basic law, is the EU’s supporting activity, together with such fields as culture, arts, tourism, sports etc.; so “education policy” is predominantly in the national competences. Therefore, the Commission’s efforts in education (although still called “policy”) have additional, supplementary competence to that of the member states. Somehow, the Commission is closely “watching” the member states’ efforts in meeting the European targets: e.g. to enable young people to become active participants both at national and the EU-wide perspective growth patterns.
EU-wide education policy pursues, generally the following goals: = making lifelong learning and mobility a reality; = improving quality and efficiency of education and training; promoting new forms of education with SDGs implementation, digitalisation, social cohesion, etc.; and = enhancing creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship, at all levels of education and training. Each year the Commission adds some new parameters in the policy’s guidelines.
Keeping in mind that the “conceptual shift to mobility” is needed, including such requirements that 20 percent of European students should be physically studying or training abroad for three months or more by 2020, a goal which was set in 2011 by the 48 member states of the European Higher Education Area; however, not many states achieved that.
Besides, it was the need of combining virtual, short and longer physical mobility in a kind of “blended design”: the idea didn’t really materialize either due to e.g. quite expensive living and accommodation for transferring students in most western EU states. The Bologna Process, which has been relatively successful in terms of the compatibility of degrees and creating a pan-European system of credits and quality assurance alignment, has evolved along the lines of bilateral cooperation and HEIs partnerships.
See, e.g.

Other historic examples
The European University Association (EUA), which evolved from some initiative steps in 2018, published a briefing paper titled “The European Universities Initiative and system level reforms” only in October 2022.
From the start, the EUA warned that the European “transnational higher education cooperation” was facing the following major challenges: – different requirements for the accreditation and quality assurance of joint programs; – differences in the implementation of the European approach to quality assurance and the number of European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) credits needed for a EU-wide recognized degree; – differences in academic qualifications and grading; – differences in higher education access requirements and students selection; – differences and restrictions in the language of instruction on higher education courses; – differences in university funding systems and tuition fees; – restrictions on universities making contracts with foreign entities; – restrictions on universities creating legal entities. Source:

However, differences in institutional education practices as well as national languages’ barriers served as a justification of rejecting courses in ‘non-official languages’ on the grounds of internationalization. Tackling the language question was supposed to be crucial in creating an “inclusive and multicultural Europe”; the idea which was under the original idea of EUAs envisaged by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The EUAs ultimate goal is that of creating 60 European University alliances involving 500 HEIs by mid-2024, with the announcement of seven new alliances and a push to include some universities in the Western Balkans and Ukraine as members of the €402 million Erasmus+ funding program.
More in: Nadia Manzoni’s article in:

The way forward
One of the perspective ways forward is fundamental reforming the member states’ education policies. As soon as it is highly unrealistic to change the existing EU Treaties (where the education policy is mainly the domain of national governance), the most appropriate direction is of a double nature: through “influencing” the states’ education ministers, and by the university “leadership development” in Europe. The advocates of the latter are Josep M Garrell, president of the European University Association, EUA and Thomas Estermann, director of governance, funding and public policy development at the EUA. This direction seems quite positive as today’s university leaders are navigating major education-transformation issues, including the green and digital transition, evolving student and public expectations and shifting labour market demands, etc.
More in:

For example, recent digital challenge has dramatically transformed existing education process: the so-called digital education area plan (DEAP 2021-2027) represents a cornerstone of the Union’s efforts to support the digital transition in Europe. It builds on the first digital education action plan adopted in January 2018, running to the end of 2020, with a wider scope going beyond formal education, and with a longer duration, running until 2027.
The DEAP-2027 has two long-term strategic priorities: a) fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and b) enhancing digital competences for the digital transformation. In order to strengthen the cooperation and exchange in digital education, the Commission has created a European Digital Education Hub to foster collaboration and synergies between policy areas relevant to digital education, create a network of national advisory services and strengthen the dialogue between stakeholders from the public and private sector.

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