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What’s new in Brussels? – Key takeaways

On the 4-5 March 2021, the Academic Cooperation Association hosted its first ever fully virtual European policy seminar“What’s New in Brussels? Recent developments in European policies and programmes.” The goal of the event was to offer a birds-eye overview of key innovations and opportunities in the new generation of EU higher education & research programmes and policies with a particular focus on the new Erasmus+ work programme for 2021 and the broader outlook for the next seven-year European financial framework period from 2021-2027. A range of speakers from the European Commission and Parliament, national Erasmus+ funding agencies, and higher education institutions offered their perspectives on hot-off-the-press details regarding higher education in the new Erasmus+ programme.

More than 200 participants from around the world joined us online for the two-day seminar. The first day of the event began with a high-level panel discussion moderated by ACA President Ulrich Grothus and featuring Themis Christophidou, the Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC) at the European Commission and Michaela Šojdrová, Member of the European Parliament. The panel also featured Dana Petrova, ACA Vice-President and Grażyna Żebrowska the Director of the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA). The panellists reflected on the state of play for European actors in the field of international higher education.

This was followed by a more detailed discussion, chaired by Ernst Gesslbauer of OeAD, on the Erasmus+ programme architecture for 2021. Vanessa Debiais-Sainton and Filip van Depoele, the respective Heads of Unit of the Higher Education and the International Cooperation units at DG EAC, reflected on key components of the new Erasmus+ programme for 2021 and answered many questions from participants in the audience about the structure and delivery of the programme.

Parallel sessions followed focused on Key Action 1 student and staff mobility. These sessions delivered practical information for higher education institution practitioners, with in-depth information about the new horizontal priorities of the new Erasmus+ programme: inclusion and diversity, digital transformation, participation in democratic life, environment and fight against climate change. The day finished with a wide-ranging panel, moderated by Vidar Pedersen of the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (Diku), and featuring student and higher education institution staff voices alongside national agency leaders taking stock of the challenges faced by the international higher education sector in the past twelve months. Panellists offered keen insights on issues in need of urgent attention which have surfaced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and other challenges, articulating the essential nature of cooperation between the actors in our sector for delivering sustainable solutions.

Day Two began with a very informative panel featuring European Commission colleagues speaking candidly about the emerging novelties in Key Action 2. There were many compelling takeaways from the audience Q&A session, including, for example, explanations from EC colleagues about the impact of the rebranding of Strategic Partnerships, which were formally housed under Key Action 3, as Cooperation Partnerships and now repositioned under Key Action 2.

Wendy Sonneveld, the Senior Policy Advisor European Affairs at Ghent University, moderated the penultimate panel, which focused on research and funding synergies between the EU and national level actors. This session provided participants with a great amount of technical food-for-thought on the practical implications of funding structures for research and innovation in our sector.

What’s new in Brussels closed with an enriching and eclectic final panel, led by ACA’s Director Irina Ferencz, featuring a few alternative reflections on the future of our sector from the points of views of practitioners and policy-makers working in international higher education, alongside the voices of leaders researching and evaluating the quality of our sector. This panel threaded together the more practical contributions of the earlier sessions and provided much food-for-thought and inspiration to all participants as they turn to applying the useful learning from this jam-packed two-day seminar in their own professional realities.

ACA extends a warm thank you to all participants, speakers and moderators who made this year’s What’s new in Brusselssuch a success. We very much look forward to seeing you in person again next year!