Today, 16th July, 2018, the Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, hosted a conference which brought together representatives from the Irish Higher Education Sector, the European Commission and representatives from partner EU countries to discuss the new European Universities Network project.
A range of expert speakers spoke at the conference including Ms. Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Unit for Higher Education, DG Education and Culture, European Commission, who outlined the concept of a European University Network. A number of presidents from Irish higher education institutions (HEIs), also spoke at the conference where they shared their views on the project and gave concrete examples of existing networks they are engaged with.
The European Universities Network project is a significant step towards achieving the ambitions as set out in the EU Leader’s vision for a European Education Area that should lead to a Europe in which learning, studying and research would not be hampered by borders.
To achieve this objective, the European Commission proposes an unparalleled initiative which requires a quantum leap in cooperation between all types of higher education institutions from all regions in Europe and at all levels of the organisation, across all areas of activity, from teaching and learning to research and innovation.
To begin this process, the European Commission will run a competitive call for proposals to establish pilot networks of European Universities, This call is scheduled to be launched in September.
In addressing the conference, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said, “The Irish Government strongly supports Irish institutions to be involved in a European University and, ideally, from the pilot phase. The European University concept is in alignment with several of our national strategies. All of our national strategies and policies for higher education underpin efforts to modernise and increase the relevance and internationalised nature of our institutions.”
There is €30m available for the pilot phase and it is envisaged that this will result in the funding of six European University Network alliances. Therefore, each successful alliance will receive c. €5m.
Minister Mitchell O’Connor concluded her address with a request to HEIs, she said,
“Please continue to build relationships and alliances that will help to grow our European identity in Ireland and through your interaction on a daily basis with our young people to energise them around the European project and the EU.”
Notes for Editors
The European Universities proposal was taken up in the European Council Conclusions of 14 December, 2017 which clearly called on the Member States of the European Union, the Council and the European Commission, in line with their respective competences, to take work forward by strengthening strategic partnerships across the EU between HEIs and encouraging the emergence by 2024 of some twenty 'European Universities', consisting in bottom-up networks of 4 to 6 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.
An ad-hoc expert group was established by the European Commission to look at the issue and agree on the scope and criteria for the European Universities alliances. This group produced a draft concept paper outlining: the objectives and general principles of European Universities; how European Universities will deliver on the vision of a European Education Area by 2025; and details of the Erasmus+ pilot call, what it will test, as well as the proposed eligibility and award criteria.
The pilot actions under the Erasmus+ 2019 and 2020 calls will test different models for implementing the concept of ‘European Universities’ and will allow for an assessment of the main components before its full roll-out in 2021.
Ideally, the pilot will test different aspects of the concept, therefore once a quality threshold has been reached, the decision on what to fund will also be made on the basis of the need to:
- achieve a balanced EU regional representation at action level;
- ensure a diversity of cooperation models in line with the objectives of the action, including through different starting points and different types of higher education institutions.