BRUSSELS- On Wednesday, 24 October 2018, the European Commission launched a call to run the pilot project for the creation of the Network of the European Universities: 30 million euros will be available for six networks to test their projects in 2019.
The idea of creating European Universities (or European Universities Networks) was first brought up almost a year ago during the Gothenburg summit, and was confirmed by the European Council in December 2017:
‘…strengthening strategic partnerships across the EU between higher education institutions and encouraging the emergence by 2024 of some twenty ‘European Universities’, consisting in bottom-up networks of universities across the EU which will enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several EU countries and contribute to the international competitiveness of European universities‘.
The European Students’ Union (ESU) adopted a “Statement on The Future of Education in Europe and a prospective European Education Area” during its 74th Board Meeting, in April 2018, expressing significant concerns about the proposal.
ESU welcomes the Commission’s goal to strengthen the cooperation between Higher Education Institutions in Europe, but this should be done among all institutions and not only a select few. The main concern of ESU is that the initiative will create a two-tiered elitist system, where non-university institutions, and less well-known or well-funded universities are left behind – as well as the students who attend them.
As the Commission continues the development of the European Universities Initiative, ESU cannot be supportive of the project if the networks do not reflect the diversity of experience and expertise across Higher Education (HE) in Europe, nor if they do not guarantee the highest standards of student participation. Furthermore, the enhancement of teaching and learning should be a primary focus of any funding criteria. The partnerships should prioritise widening access to higher education across Europe. The study programmes offered through these Networks need to ensure that all target measures for equal access and any other necessary support structures are in place, making the education truly accessible for all. Moreover, ESU stresses that this cross-border cooperation can only be utilized through the application of a student-centered approach to HE, as well as through incentivising innovative teaching and learning as a central focus from the very beginning of discussions, which should also be properly stated in the selection criteria. The networks should also be open to all European Higher Education Area (EHEA) countries, and not only member states.
Without these criteria being met, ESU will not be able to support the Commission’s initiative.