Benefits of the European Universities Initiative to higher education cooperation

The European Union’s competences in higher education are limited to support, coordinate and supplement actions of the Member States, without any legislative power.

However, through financial support – such as the Erasmus programme – the EU’s impact on policy and practice in internationalisation of higher education can be very powerful.

One of the most recent large-scale and high-visibility initiatives of the European Commission is the European Universities Initiative, which includes substantial funding for European University Alliances. By mid-2024, the initiative will involve over 500 institutions in 60 alliances. The objective is to experiment a more intense, deep and structured cooperation model, going well beyond the traditional forms of bi- or multi-lateral mobility agreements and short-term projects. Since 2017, the European Alliances have become a highly visible and prestigious form of cooperation, and as such, is also warmly welcomed by the European University Association. Of its nearly 900 member universities a good third is currently involved in an alliance.

However, while enthusiasm – including financial and regulatory support – for these alliances is well justified and appreciated, we must make sure that the initiative is of benefit also to those institutions which are not involved – and perhaps never will be – in an alliance. Thankfully, the initiative has high potential to do exactly that: the intense cooperation in the alliances has brought back to the surface problems that institutions engaged in international cooperation have had for years, even decades, and on which we have struggled to implement reforms – even those already formally agreed at the European level.

Just to cite one example, joint programmes have been around for quite a few years now, but constantly face several regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles, ranging from incompatible quality assurance requirements to different academic calendars and credit requirements between countries. Many initiatives over the years have attempted to solve those problems, with too little concrete change. The high political visibility of the alliances provides much needed leverage to make those reforms finally a reality. The renewed attention and pressure to ensure smooth international cooperation in higher education provoked by the alliances, once implemented, will thus benefit all institutions wishing to engage in the development of such programmes, whether. And of course, joint programmes is just one example: recognition of mobility periods, flexibility in credit requirements, regulations on staff recruitment and mobility, and many such topics are equally important if we are to create a true European Higher Education Area where students and staff can move between countries and institutions.

Recommended articles