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Jo Ritzen, president of Maastricht University, has released a book this month that puts front and centre the discussion of what European universities could do and be for Europe if their full potential were unleashed. A Chance for European Universities outlines Ritzen’s vision for a globally competitive Europe that is bolstered by high-performing universities contributing directly to “economic innovation, increased social cohesion and a more vibrant cultural dynamism.”
To achieve this goal, Ritzen argues that the “context in which European universities operate needs to be altered urgently.” Specifically, Ritzen suggests that there be a denationalization of the Bologna process in favour of “Europe-wide” actions in the areas of accreditation and quality control; a rejection of the bureaucratic organisation of universities in favour of the innovative approaches more characteristic of not-for-profit companies; and a rebalancing of university budgets, whereby private sources can plug the holes left by public budget cuts.
Ritzen’s book forms the centrepiece of a larger effort to spur action in the area of university empowerment. A group of European university leaders and higher education policymakers met in Brussels on 15-16 June to mark the public launch of Ritzen’s book and to craft a “manifesto” entitled Empower European Universities. The manifesto was signed by 20 notable figures in European higher education and presented to Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. While the manifesto and Ritzen’s book present an inspiring call to action, the challenges of implementing the suggested reforms—notably, severe financial constraints and the ‘subsidiarity principle’ that keeps much educational decision-making in national hands—remain significant.