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The II Forum of European Universities Alliances in rear view

Opened by a high-level panel – including Jaume Collboni, Mayor of Barcelona, Joaquim Nadal, Head of the Department for Research and Universities of the Government of Catalonia, Joan Subirats, Minister for Universities in Spain and Margaritis Schinas, Vicepresident for Promoting our European Way of Life at the European Commision – the 2nd forum brought together representatives of the 50 selected European Universities alliances, of the European Commission, member states, various stakeholder organisations, quality assurance and (a few) national agencies for Erasmus+, as well as student organisations, to take stock of developments to date, celebrate the achievements and reflect on the future of the initiative.

Via two main plenaries and eight parallel sessions, the participants explored various overarching aspects of the initiative. One was the remaining overdue reforms at member state level that are necessary to enable alliances to deliver on their wider visions and finally put the Bologna Process key commitments into reality. Another dealt with examples of societal outreach of the initiative and how to further mainstream them, while a third tackled the global dimension of (several) alliances, showcasing a few instances of mutually beneficial cooperation with Ukraine, the Western Balkans and Africa, in particular.

Thematic sessions further shed light on progress made on some key aspects of the initiative, as well as stakeholder views and next steps:

  • The Joint European Degree Label – the six pilot projects currently test the application of the draft criteria, exploring important aspects such as articulating the true added value of the label, defining its ‘European’ aspects, its application also to regulated professions (e.g. engineering), the modalities for awarding the label (to the respective programmes/institutions, as well as to the students graduating from the programmes), modalities for digital awarding and the prospects for ‘automation’ of degree awarding processes.
  • The Indicators Monitoring framework – was deployed over the summer, in draft form, for a pilot data collection by the alliances, testing its feasibility and fitness for purpose. The representatives in the panel talked about the necessity of a longitudinal and multilayered approach to in the framework, as well about the necessity of a flexible design, the need to balance the efforts of this data collection with the already detailed reporting done by alliances on a very regular basis, as well as the challenge to set apart progress made by institutions through their usual internationalization efforts and other partnerships, and those made through the alliance participation.
  • The Investment pathway, outlining some first objectives by the European Commission to create more funding synergies for the alliances, linking Erasmus+ opportunities to Horizon Europe (and the future programme), the European Structural Funds as well as national-level funding. Panelists highlighted the need for this approach, but also the complexity of the exercise, stressing that simplification should be the real objective of the Investment Pathway, in a landscape where public funding for higher education differs markedly between member states. They further outlined that key for sustainability of funding is the alignment of objectives with the available resources, and having the funding for alliance cooperation become part of the regular institutional funding.

While the focus throughout the two days was on the alliances, many interventions from the panels and the audience underlined the necessity of reforms and transformations to address and benefit the wider higher education ecosystem, and to prevent the formation of a two-tier system.

Following this event, the Spanish Presidency further hosted on 18-19 September in Zaragoza an informal meeting of Education Ministers, which focused on discussing youth participation in democratic life and mental health.