Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

Opinion

European universities need to remain competitive

  • Talented people move around and look for the places offering them the best possibilities to expand their abilities. (Photo: t-mizo)

When French president Emmanuel Macron laid out his vision for Europe on 26 September 2017, many listened with great interest.

We need such visionary and future-proof ideas for the EU itself, and especially for higher education and science on the European continent.

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I think that the initiative of "the emergence by 2024 of around 20 'European universities'" is very exciting.

It is still an idea in the making - but if done in the right manner, it could be a much-needed building up of Europe as a first-class education, research and innovation hub.

In the globalised world, the EU is now feeling the squeeze from other continents that have accelerated growth and development - also in research and education.

If we are to compete, we must seek to increase Europe's competitiveness through development and implementation of new knowledge, and translate new knowledge into innovative solutions.

The European universities and education and research institutions play a key role. However, I believe that, as individual European nations, we will fall short in our response.

Join forces

Today, universities in EU countries are under-represented at the top-end of international universities rankings. For the EU to host some of the world leading universities in the future, we must join forces.

The added value we will gain from closer and more strategic cooperation can potentially create the best facilities in the world.

Internationalisation and mobility are known to increase quality in particular for higher education, science and innovation. Networks of "European universities" could advance the quality of higher education in the EU by offering joint degrees or joint-programmes.

What if a future engineer could take his degree through a joint programme in Munich, Paris and Copenhagen? Or a joint master programme in archaeology could take place in the Leiden, Rome and Lund. Through such strategic cooperation, we will be able to raise the bar for quality and relevance even higher in the EU.

Joint EU efforts within research have celebrated significant success over the past decade, through programmes such as the European Research Council - and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions aimed at increasing mobility for European researchers.

We need more of that as we look towards a new framework programme on research and innovation in the EU. In addition to this, "European universities" could serve as a new vehicle for advancing European research within areas of excellence.

The high level of quality will also allow us to attract the most talented people from other parts of the world.

Talented people move around and look for the places offering them the best possibilities to expand their abilities. We need to make sure that we can provide the high standards they demand.

Therefore, when developing the concept of European Universities, it is pivotal to focus on creating networks that can contribute to laying the foundation for the highest standards of education and research worldwide.

European Universities should start as consortia of leading universities and higher education and research institutions from three or more countries.

The consortia should be open to excellent institutions from outside the EU, as well. These should be able to apply for financial support for establishing and running close strategic cooperatives within education, research and innovation.

The selection of consortia to receive financial support should be based on the quality and relevance of education and science of the institutions, as well as the level of integration between the participating institutions.

It is crucial that the consortia chosen to receive EU funding have joint activities covering the entire value chain from education and research to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Need for action

Needless to say, ambitions like these do not come for free.

In Shakespearean terms, what we don't need in Europe is 'mere prattle without practice'. We need to turn the grand visions introduced by Macron at Sorbonne into real action.

This is only done by allocating substantial funding to the concept, as well as ensuring the administrative demands for participation are kept at a minimum. Without these steps, the idea will remain exactly that - just an idea.

All states in Europe are faced with the same challenges of competing in a globalised world.

Therefore, we need a new vision for the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area - vitalised by the great potential in developing new strategic networks of European Universities.

The ambition is to create a future-proof education and research powerhouse that is able to compete with the rest of the world in the future.

Soren Pind is the Danish minister for higher education and science.

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