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What is “inclusive excellence” in global cooperation?

On 11 May 2022, ACA and co-organisers VLUHR international, CZELO|DZS, DAAD, and HK-Dir, had the pleasure to host “Inclusive Excellence” - a Global Approach for European Higher Education? in Brussels and online. Thanks to contributions from 19 panellists with representation from the European Commission, stakeholder groups, HEIs, national funding agencies and students, the event focused on the emerging concept of “inclusive excellence” in the context of the global dimension of the European Strategy for Universities (ES4U) and the Erasmus+ programme.

The event has started the discussion on the concept of “inclusive excellence,” brought into the European policy in the recent European Strategy for Universities and its accompanying Staff working document, as applicable to both the internal (intra-union) and external cooperation. The event zoomed into the concept from the global dimension of the Erasmus+ programme, through key inputs and views by speakers from different DG’s, stakeholder groups, HEIs representatives, funding agencies, and students.

At policy and institutional levels, the event contributors stressed that much progress has been made in advancing inclusion in the HE field that was traditionally defined more by exclusion than inclusion, with notable exceptions. It can be observed how the one-way conceptualisation of research excellence is becoming obsolete, and the inclusion narrative is getting prominence, although this is far from being yet at optimal levels. A paradigm shift is needed, not only to include more target groups into international opportunities, but also to have stronger attention to more diverse views and different contexts. If inclusion is not incorporated in all these points, an institution cannot really be considered excellent in today’s context.

Further on, most of the speakers have addressed the need for European higher education to start positioning itself less as a global leader, and more as an honest partner, on equal footing when collaborating with the HE sectors globally, especially in the global south. There seemed to be some support for this idea from the EC representatives, although the text of the strategy, released before the start of the war in Ukraine, emphasised a vision of Europe as a leader, rather than a partner, when engaging internationally.

While the notion of collaboration with partners who share the European or, rather, universal values was in principle welcomed, it was also shown that in practice, this might be challenging to fully safeguard, and could come in conflict with other political priorities. Some of the speakers also raised a need to reach out even more to countries who do not share the same values, to continue to build bridges and bring about desired change, instead of closing the doors to collaboration.

Similarly, and as concepts such as Europe’s “strategic autonomy” start to enter the conversations within the HE filed, after being more heatedly discussed in the research sector, strong implications on the future of cooperation might emerge. This is part of the institutional core of ACA members – internationalisation agencies providing funding and support for transnational cooperation. Further discussions are needed to set up the balance between openness and caution. A practical approach to navigate this challenge, as proposed by the speakers, would be to differentiate by the purpose of cooperation, continuing collaboration in projects aimed at tackling wider societal challenges, that cannot be solved through unilateral actions, such as biodiversity or climate change, food, while remaining cautious and having wider scrutiny over collaboration in politically or strategically sensitive areas.

These and other ideas will be further developed in ACA’s upcoming Reflection Paper, which will build on this event and internal exchanges with ACA members.

You can view the recordings of the event bellow: