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Advancing the ES4U with a base on Bologna commitments

Meeting in the framework of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (EYCS) on 5 April 2022, EU education ministers formally responded, as expected, to the higher education package launched by the European Commission (EC) in January this year, through two key documents: the Council Conclusions on a European strategy empowering higher education institutions for the future of Europe and a Council Recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation.

Through the two official documents, that largely mirror each-other in the core elements and key messages, the Council reaffirms the importance, and pledges to the further pursuit of key Bologna Process commitments and related instruments, from safeguarding fundamental values in internal and external cooperation, to the wider application of the European Approach to Quality Assurance in Joint Programmes, the European Standards and Guidelines (ESGs) and the 20% learning mobility benchmark. All these are seen are cornerstones for the piloting of the European legal statute, the European joint degree (label) and the design of common European criteria, the full roll out of the European Universities Initiative and of upcoming (funding) instruments.

Furthermore, in the conclusions, the ministers call for enhancing synergies between the European Higher Education Area and the European Research Area, as well as between the four university missions – education, research, innovation and service to society. They endorse the four pillars of the European Strategy for Universities (ES4U), while adding new accents on: fostering inclusiveness while leveraging excellence; positioning the EU as a “safe haven for the freedom of scientific research and academic values”, as well as for students and scholars under threat; and “unlocking the full added value of alliances of HEIs such as the ‘European Universities’ ” through further support at European level and a national step-by-step approach.

As for the next steps, beyond encouraging HEIs, stakeholder organisations, member states and EU institutions to strive for progress towards all related actions and areas of transnational cooperation, the Council further asks the European Commission to:

  • submit a roadmap by mid-2022 to co-design the new instruments supporting the wider policy objectives, including related milestones and expert groups involved.
  • report on a number of exploratory processes and pilots, such as: the joint European degree label and criteria; the European legal statute; the steps taken by national authorities, HEIs and stakeholders to overcome the obstacles to deeper transnational cooperation and the design of institutionalized cooperation instruments (based on prior assessments of necessity, feasibility and benefits); and the use by alliances of existing funding programmes and tools at European, national and regional levels, foreseeing piloting different approaches, by 2024, for moving towards more sustainable, holistic and integrated funding streams, possibly following the mid-term review of MFF.

On multiple instances, and particularly on the development of higher education monitoring tools, the participation of member states is highlighted as voluntary, while the Commission is reminded to act within the boundaries of the subsidiarity principle, enabling initiatives by member states and HEIs.