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ACA’s “What’s new in Brussels?” seminar delivers key insights once again

ACA’s signature January event, a European Policy Seminar entitled What’s new in Brussels? Recent developments in European policies and programmes, welcomed over 100 participants on 20 January. The seminar gave the floor to speakers from the European Commission (EC), as well as from several stakeholder groups, who provided comprehensive updates on some of the most current issues on the European higher education agenda.

Anchoring much of the conversation throughout the day was the Erasmus for All Programme, which was introduced by the EC’s Jordi Curell, who serves as Director, Lifelong Learning: Higher Education and International Affairs, DG Education and Culture (EAC). Erasmus for All was both applauded and critiqued by Siegbert Wuttig, who spoke from the perspective of a national agency (in this case the DAAD). At this level, there is both excitement and concern about what the new programme’s proposed changes might mean for national engagement with EU initiatives in the realm of higher education. The potential for increased budgetary support for higher education and simplified programme management are some aspects of Erasmus for All that are considered highly positive, while key concerns include the possible loss of both sector-specific initiatives and successful programme “brand names”. Applause and critique also characterised the perspective of the European Students’ Union in this forum, which was ably represented by its Chairperson, Alan Päll. Increased attention and funding for some aspects of the European higher education agenda is most welcome, but concerns also exist, particularly when it comes (amongst other things) to ongoing inequity in higher education and the prospect of increasing student debt through expanded reliance on student loans.

On the question of loans, Julie Fionda, of DG EAC, provided a wonderfully concrete overview of the Erasmus Master student loan guarantee programme currently under consideration. Development and testing of this new concept is progressing, and the political commitment to take forward this initiative seems to be firmly in place, with an eye on implementation of such a scheme by 2014.

The day was rounded out by a comprehensive overview of progress made (or pending) toward the achievement of the Education and Training 2020 objectives, courtesy of DG EAC’s Richard Deiss, as well as an update by Peter van der Hijden from DG Research on the Horizon 2020 Programme. Finally, the venerable Professor Ulrich Teichler brought his immense experience to bear on a consideration of the past and future of Europe’s ongoing ‘love affair’ with mobility.

ACA expects to deliver three more European Policy Seminars in 2012 and hopes each of these will be as compelling as this first (very lively and informative) event of the new year!