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Towards more impactful and effective European Universities

In November, the Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services discussed, via an online workshop, the preliminary findings of a study on the “necessity and the feasibility of a possible legal status for alliances of universities, such as European Universities”, together with a group of higher education stakeholders, including ACA. Contracted by the European Commission’s DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC), this study is assessing the needs and feasibility of institutionalised cooperation instruments, such as a possible legal status for alliances. The study sheds light on current practice regarding institutionalised cooperation instruments used by higher education institutions; needs and challenges facing higher education institutions regarding institutionalised cooperation; possibilities for upgraded or new instruments, and potential take-up and impacts of upgraded or new instruments.

The study establishes that various existing models provide only partial answers to institutions’ needs and do not fully allow deeper cooperation. The legal tools analysis shows that although EU tools (e.g., EGTC, ERIC, EEIG, SE, SCE, ECBM, FE, EP) and national tools (BE ASBL, BE AISBL, NL Foundation, DE e.V. and LUX ASBL) enable creating own legal personality and facilitate administrative cooperation, in full respect of university autonomy, they are rather complex to set up and do not offer any possibility to execute joint educational offer (e.g., delivery, accreditation and quality assurance of joint programmes, joint student recruitment and tuition fees). Specifically, transnational alliances reported to have biggest difficulties with acquisition of property, joint student recruitment and employment of staff, joint data and asset management, as well as accreditation and quality assurance procedures. The study outlines three major possibilities to tackle these issues: (a) “soft law” instruments (promoting existing tools and the development of new ones at national level); (b) revision of existing EU legal instruments or (c) set-up of a new legal instrument specific to educational collaboration. These options will be refined especially in terms of their impact and possible take-up by the community through further consultations.

Another stakeholder workshop held earlier this month was dedicated to co-creating an indicator framework to assess the progress of the European Universities initiative. The indicator framework and workshop inputs are part of the wider evaluation study on the European Universities Initiative – “The outcomes and transformational potential of the European Universities Initiative”, which was commissioned by DG EAC to PPMI in December 2021. Based on desk research and stakeholder input at different levels, this framework suggests a list of primarily quantiative criteria to assess the outcomes and transformational potential of the European Universities initiative as a whole, against the policy goals and vision. The framework encourages a longitudinal approach to assess the outcomes and transformational potential of the initiative over time, while trying to respect the diversity of the European Universities alliances. To date, it includes 16 indicators proposed for the three main dimensions: joint education provision and mobility; alliance governance and cooperation; and society and economy.

The key questions posed by the stakeholders taking part in the workshop revolved around the main purpose of the indicators’ monitoring framework, the extent to which the proposed framework measures progress towards the European University Initiative’s initial or evolving (e.g. related to the 2022 European Strategy for Universities) policy objectives, and the extent to which the approach can capture the impact of the initiative as a whole, compared to that of individual alliances. In a second step, the contractor is expected to assess measurability and data collection, building as much as possible on existing data tools.

Both studies are planned for publishing in 2023.