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Commission communication on modernising European universities

Following the European Council’s invitation at Hampton Court, the Commission published on 10th May a communication on how best to modernise European higher education institutions, in order to increase their contribution to the making of a knowledge-based society and boost growth.The communication covers all activities of Europe’s universities, from delivery of education to research activities and their potential as drivers of innovation.The Commission identifies changes to be made and provides the following suggestions in order for universities to develop their full potential:

  • Increase geographical and inter-sectoral mobility. Try and double the proportion of graduates and researchers spending at least one semester abroad or in industry;
  • Form partnerships with the business sector;
  • Favour lifelong learning. Create the right setting for students to go back to studying at later stages in the life-cycle;
  • Make university funding more output-based. Member states are also advised to review national students fee and support schemes, so that socio-economic origin stops being a barrier to access;
  • Enhance interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. Universities should be able to reconfigure their teaching and research agendas so that they are in line with developments in science;
  • Universities should share knowledge with and communicate their activities to society through conferences, open door events, placements, etc;
  • Allow universities greater autonomy when recruiting teaching and research staff. Universities should be more competitive and be in a position to attract the best academics;
  • Make European higher education and research more visible and attractive in the world.

The communication states that the Commission is able to contribute to this modernisation process by providing incentives, namely through the Lifelong Learning Programme, the 7th Framework Programme, the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, and possibly the Structural Funds and the EIB loans.

The European Commission's communication follows up on earlier ones, among them "Mobilising the brainpower of Europe: enabling universities to make their full contribution to the Lisbon Strategy" of April 2005, which had identified enhancing the quality and attractiveness of Europe’s universities, improving their governance and systems, and increasing and diversifying their funding as the three main issues to be addressed (see ACA Newsletter April 2005). ACA discussed exactly these issues at its recent conference "The Future of the University" in Vienna, and it devoted several studies and events - among them the upcoming ACA Conference in Bergen (see ACA news section) to the theme of Europe's global attractiveness. We are proud to find many of the issues raised by ACA echoed in the present communication.

Delivering on the modernisation agenda for universities: education, research and innovation