Speak up, let’s be bold and dare to dream. With these words, Victor van der Chijs, chairman of the UT's Executive Board and of the ECIU, opened the first high-level event on the Future of European Universities. At the Palais des Académies in Brussels, 150 attendees discussed the future of the European Universities.
Hold up a green card or a red one. The audience signals its (dis)agreement with the statements that moderator Charlotte van Velthoven puts to them. Things start off easy. “Who thinks that Belgium will win the European Championship title?” Later on, things are more serious. Would you rather make an impact or obtain a degree? The audience takes part in the discussion - and not just with the coloured cards; questions are sent in via Twitter as well.
Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport & Culture, gives the key-note at the event. She invites European universities to be ambitious, Europe is ready to support bold educational innovations. The panel tasked with debating three statements consists of Per Michael Johansen, Vice-President ECIU and Rector at Aalborg University, Magne Bartlett, ECIU University Board Member and student at the University of Stavanger, Elena Tegovska, Team Leader Higher Education and Erasmus+, DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture and Anna Panagopoulou, Acting Director Common Implementation Centre, DG Research & Innovation.
The Van Velthoven kicks things off. “Is Europe ready to truly innovate its higher education? Is Europe ready to support new types of educational innovations?” “The step from obtaining a degree to not obtaining one at all is quite large,” says Elena Tegovska. “We will have to look at this one step at a time. Nevertheless, it is very interesting to hear everyone's ideas.” Per Michael Johansen: “It is about a new structure. At first, this will involve a combination of traditional and innovative institutions.”
Next, the discussion moves to the topic of research. At the moment, European Universities are mostly supported for their education activities, but what about their research mission? Van Velthoven: “European universities need a research mission to be full-fledged universities. Moreover, they are perfectly placed to raise the competitiveness of the European Research Area. What should this research support look like?” Magne Barlett: “I would like there to be a way for students to get involved in research projects.” Anna Panagopoulou: “There will be a call launched to support the research mission of European University Alliances in the coming weeks.” Per Michael Johansen: “Many universities already offer their students ways to conduct research. It is advisable to take a good look at these platforms.”
The final question concerns funding. What would an integral financial model for European universities look like? “At the moment, there is no clarity about the EU budget after 2020,” says Elena Tegovska. “We hope that these pioneering universities can elevate their respective national level as well as part of the educational development process.” Anna Panagopoulou: “The Member States have to get involved and think along as well. They must realise that innovating the field of higher education is a shared responsibility.”
“What is clear after today,” the moderator sums up, “is that the European Universities should not look at each other as competitors. What we need are open minds and collaboration. It is also clear that Europe is already on board, yet funding remains an issue. The individual Member States will have to make a contribution as well. One last question: who wants to get a drink and continue this discussion elsewhere?” That's easy: green signs all around.
Rianne Kouwenaar, Senior Policy Advisor International & Public Affairs at the University Association (VSNU):
“I am here to learn more about where the universities are headed. I want to stay up to date and see whether I can link projects together. This is going to be exciting, because now is the time to actually get things done.”
Chiara Conciatori, Communication Officer at European Association of Conservatoires (AEC):
“My CEO asked me to come here to learn more about how the European Universities operate. I like the fact that there was a student on stage and that they are also a member of the board. You have to have students’ involvement in order to be successful.”
Joëlle Pletinckx, policy advisor rector, University of Antwerp and coordinator Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE):
“This is uncharted territory for everyone. It is always interesting to hear what choices people are making and to learn that we all face the same issues, namely funding. The EU budget is not enough.”
Nicole Guthan, General Secretariat UAS4EUROPE:
“I am here out of interest in other European developments, but I heard nothing new today. Where will we be in five years’ time? What calls are coming soon? I didn't hear any of that. This is a good opportunity to network, though.”
Andrew MacDonell, Research policy and funding in the UK and the EU (UKRO):
“This is what we do. To keep up to date. We try to gather information. We read between the lines to find out if a call is coming and what advice is given. We can then use that when a new call is issued.”
Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport & Culture gave a keynote to kick off the conference.
“ECIU is extremely enthusiastic. It is telling that you are already calling yourselves a university, rather than an alliance or something similar. You were selected because you dare to take risks and explore uncharted paths. Is Europe ready? Yes! Europe is on board. Now is the time to deliver and ask for support from funds and national governments. In this manner, we can sow our seeds in fertile soil and reap the rewards in the long run. Dream big, be ambitious and develop a long-term vision. We are impressed by challenge-based learning and the link to the Sustainable Development Goals. We see major potential in the micro-credentials. It satisfies a need our society has. In the coming months, we will explore ways to facilitate quality assurance for a European Degree and establish an EU framework for micro-credentials. We will work with you. Step by step. Your success is our success. You are a role model. The blueprint is set. It is time to put it into practice and be the great innovator you have always been.”