On 14 and 15 September, YERUN attended the II Forum on European Universities Alliances. The event was organised in Barcelona by the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU and provided a great opportunity for all stakeholders involved in the European Universities Initiative to meet and exchange official and unofficial views on its future.
With 17 of its members involved in 8 alliances (CIVIS, EDUC, EPICUR, EUGLOH, EUNIWELL, EUTOPIA, UNIVERSEH and YUFE), YERUN had a strong stake in participating in the event and getting the pulse of the initiative in this crucial moment when its future is in the making.
The two-day event featured a very rich programme, bringing together Member States, European Commission, representatives of the current 50 alliances, 11 university networks, student unions and other stakeholders.
The event was opened by a keynote speech by Commission’s Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, in charge of the education and research portfolios in the transition period between Commissioner Gabriel’s departure and Commissioner Ivanova’s takeover. Schinas’ introduction referred to the alliances as “not a project, but a long-term transformation process” – a mantra that was cited to in every panel discussion along the forum. This reflects well the political momentum that is under construction, in which a positive narrative around the alliances and their added value along the knowledge square is expected to contribute to long term support from member states.
Among the many topics on the agenda, particularly relevant was the discussion on the European legal Statute for the alliances as well as the European degree label, a priority for the Commission in 2024. Among the pilot projects presented in the panel on the European Degree label were the projects “FOCI” (YUFE alliance) and “SMARTT” (CIVIS alliance), both of which see the involvement of YERUN members.
Moreover, dedicated panels also tackled the future financial sustainability of the initiative, discussing the so-called ‘Investment Pathway’ (namely, a combination of different sources of funding at regional, national and European level) as well as the Monitoring Framework that will assess and monitor the development of the initiative as a whole.
While the event was surely a great occasion to bring stakeholders together, develop a common narrative around the transformational potential of the initiative and have an overview of what the main issues at stake are at the moment, it did not dig into the more critical aspects, some of which have been raised in the past by YERUN at several occasions (check out articles published by Research Professional News “Raised expectations put university alliances under strain” and “Alliances, not empires“). We reiterate that while it is important to keep on the positive momentum of the initiative, it is crucial to reflect on challenges and bottlenecks that may hamper a more successful future.
In conclusion, the Forum was certainly a starting point for more in depth considerations and exchanges that will have to take place within alliances, networks, member states and commission, to ensure that the future of the initiative will truly be sustainable. This means thinking about the financial aspect, but also having an honest look at what the alliances really need and want in terms of their governance, mission, future and shared objectives.
Cover picture, from the left: Irina Ferencz (ACA), Ivana Didak (The Guild), Emmanuelle Garden (Coimbra Group), Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik (EUA), Olga Wessels (ECIU), Chiara Colella (YERUN).