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Lots of news in Brussels on the EU policy front

On 25-26 January 2024, ACA brought together, for its flagship start of the year event – What’s new in Brussels? Recent developments in European policies and programmes – and for the 20th consecutive year, a lively and informed group of international higher education professionals and policy-makers. The group counted 115 participants, from 20 countries, as well as a record of 39 experienced panelists from the European Commission, national agencies, alliances, stakeholder organisations and higher education institutions, engaging in three overarching plenary sessions and in in-depth discussions in six parallel sessions on topical themes.  

Key highlights from the seminar, and some pointers for what to keep an eye on this year are: 

  • The upcoming ‘Higher Education Package’, expected to be published in the 2nd quarter of 2024, based on the ongoing call for evidence, and counting 1) a European Commission Communication on the Joint European Degree, building on the upcoming results of the related six pilots on the same topic (including EDLab, featured at the seminar), as well as two Council Recommendations on 2) attractive and sustainable academic careers and 3) on a European framework for quality assurance and recognition. While the three initiatives will have facilitating the delivery and certification of joint programmes at their core, they will hopefully go well beyond, and benefit other forms of cooperation and recognition. 
  • Potential further synergies between the above policy documents, and the developments under ERA Action 13, supporting institutional cooperation and reform for research excellence (overseen by DG RTD), and the European Universities alliances (overseen by DG EAC), something that was called for by seminar participants. Further synergies are also desired between the international dimension of higher education and research cooperation, as funded under Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe, and the Global Gateway Initiative, overseen by DG INTPA, the opening panel facilitating some new ideas in this direction. 
  • The findings of the two sets of pilots – on the Joint European Degree (label) and the legal status of alliances of higher education institutions – that will be released in the coming two months. Amongst the highlights, on the Joint European Degree front, there will be proposed revisions of the criteria for the degree, different scenarios/paths for the transition to a full degree, possible certification mechanisms, as well as options to visualise the related certificate (label) and actual degree. The four pilots on the legal status, of which two were represented at the seminar (ESEU and Leg-UniGR), have tested the boundaries of existing forms of legal cross-border association in joint educational delivery, certification, recruitment and fund-raising, as well as the need for a European approach and status. 
  • The upcoming results of the mid-term review on Erasmus+, expected towards the end of the year, that the entire sector contributes to, directly or indirectly. Through the related panel, speakers at the event highlighted that overall, Erasmus+ is a clear success story, as also evidenced in ACA’s position paper, and that it is much more than a funding instrument, facilitation both strategic thinking and institutional transformation. At the same time, improvements are needed (urgently) in the functionality of the IT tools, as well as further efforts to enhance inclusiveness, green travel, and well as further simplify financial management. 
  • How the freshly published European Commission Proposal for a Council Recommendation on enhancing research security will be further picked up by member states in the framework of the EU Council of Ministers, as well as at the national level, in the ongoing debates on responsible internationalisation and knowledge security. Speakers in the closing panel, from Belgium, Poland, Norway and Sweden provided an overview of ongoing national-level discussions and measures (including guidelines and resource/support centers) meant to support the higher education sector in tackling the complexity of responsible internationalization, as well as how this is managed concretely at institutional level. 

For further highlights from the event, check ACA’s LinkedIn page