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Brussels, 9 February 2018

What’s new in Brussels? Recent developments in European policies and programmes


In many European countries, but also across the globe, there are strong populist, anti-intellectual and ultra-conservative tendencies. In not a few cases, ultra-conservative and populist parties are part of or even lead government coalitions and have an impact on government policies. Often, this has a - usually restrictive - impact on academic freedom. In some cases, the jobs and even the lives of scholars and professors are at risk. But there appear to be also populist governments that do not interfere too much in higher education, either because the ministry of education has successfully resisted efforts of interference from the governments’ top leadership, or because there are strong legal or even constitutional barriers guaranteeing academic freedom.

ACA will start its 2018 European Policy Seminars (EPS)’ season with the by now traditional start-of-the-year event. What’s new in Brussels? will take place on 9 February 2018. Where? In Brussels, of course.  Like every year, this one-day event will provide an excellent opportunity for a compact update on the latest news in European policy and education programmes. The news will come straight from the lion’s mouth.   

As is already an ACA tradition, the 2018 edition of What’s new in Brussels? will feature as speakers and discussants senior officials and specialists from the European Commission and the European Parliament. Not only are they top-notch presenters, but they also have a lot of news to announce.  For important developments are taking place right now and this will continue all through the year 2018. 

First, the seminar will present a new Commission Communication, inspired greatly by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, on the creation of a European Education Area 2025, which will also entail the building of 20 European world-class universities.  

Second, the event will showcase the results of the interim evaluations of the Erasmus+ and the Horizon 2020 programmes. 

Finally, the seminar will take a look at the future, in the guise of the new generation of programmes - Erasmus ++ and FP9 - starting in 2021, for which preparations have already begun. What these programmes hold in store for Europe’s higher education institutions is the most exciting question behind this seminar. 


Thursday, 8 February 2018


Seminar dinner


Friday, 9 February 2018 


Registration starts


Bernd Wächter, Director, ACA

European Education Area 2015


The European Education Area 2025
Sophia Eriksson-Waterschoot, Director for Youth, Education and Erasmus+, European Commission, DG EAC


Creating 20 European world-class universities
Florian Pecenka, Head of Unit, Education, Science and Research, Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU


Coffee break


The present and future of Erasmus+


Higher education in Erasmus+: results of the midterm evaluation and the last three years of Erasmus+
Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Deputy Head of Unit Higher Education, European Commission, DG EAC


The future of the international dimension from 2021 onwards
Claire Morel, Head of unit, European Commission, DG EAC


Erasmus+ after 2020. A seasoned expert looking into the crystal ball
Peter van der Hijden, independent higher education expert




Stakeholder positions on Erasmus+ (panel discussions)
Chair: Nina Salden, DAAD Brussels
Stefan Jahnke, Senior Policy Officer, European University Foundation (EUF)
Fernando Galan, Policy Officer, EURASHE
Runo Isaksen, Senior Adviser, Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU)
Klaas Vansteenhuyse, Head of the International Office, UC Leuven-Limburg (UCLL)

The present and future of Horizon 2020


The mid-term evaluation of Horizon 2020 and an outlook to FP 9
Nikos Kastrinos, DG Research & Innovation, RTD A3: Horizon 2020 Policy and Foresight, European Commission


Marie Sklodowska Curie after 2020
Sophie Beernaerts, Head of Unit, European Commission, DG EAC


Wrap up & good bye


End of the seminar



Bernd Wächter

Bernd Wächter is the Director of the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA). He studied at the universities of Hull (UK), Giessen and Marburg (Germany). His career has been focused on international higher education. He worked for the University of Kassel, the British Council, and the Fachhochschule Darmstadt, before joining The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) as the head of their EU division.He subsequently became the director for Higher Education (Erasmus) in the Brussels Socrates Office. In 1998, he took up his present post as ACA Director.Bernd Wächter has published and lectured widely on international higher education. He is the editor of the ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Education. He has been the team leader of ACA’s research projects and speaks frequently at major governmental and stakeholder conferences, in Europe and beyond, on the issue of mobility and internationalisation. Bernd Wächter has two children. He is married to Thora Magnusdottir, a delightful lady from Iceland.

Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot

Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot is Director for Youth, Education and Erasmus+ at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture. She is in charge of Europe’s flagship programme Erasmus+, the newly launched European Solidarity Corps, school, higher education and youth policies. She has previously held various positions within the Commission in the field of strategy and investment in education, higher education policy, employment policy, European structural and investment funds and the European social fund. She studied international economics and did an Erasmus student exchange in France.  She is an Eisenhower Fellow.

Florian Pecenka

Pecenka studied law at the University of Vienna and during his studies he spent one year in Madrid, participating in the Erasmus program. Since 2005 he works for the Ministry of Education, Science and Research. He was involved with the organization of the Austrian EU Presidency in 2006 and is since 2010 Attaché in Brussels where he is head of unit for Education, Science and Research at the Austrian Permanent Representation to the EU. Pecenka holds a master’s degree in law (2002) and received his Master of Advanced International Studies from Aliter Madrid (2004). He also holds an MBA in Public Management from SMBS – University of Salzburg Business School (2010).

Vanessa Debiais-Sainton

Vanessa is Deputy Head of Unit responsible for the Higher education strand of the Erasmus+ programme at the Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission. She is responsible for devising and overseeing the implementation of the programme. She also leads the Task Force in charge of the 30th anniversary of Erasmus+. In previous posts in the European Commission, Vanessa has worked for the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions as policy officer and call coordinator in DG Research and Innovation. Before moving to the European Commission in 2006, Vanessa spent eight years working for several petroleum and chemical companies (Solvay, Ineos and Total). She studied Chemical Engineering in France (Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine) and went on to achieve an MSc at the Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP School, France) in collaboration with McGill University (Canada) and Ineos.

Claire Morel

Claire Morel is the Head of Unit for international cooperation at DG Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the European Commission, with particular focus on the international dimension of the Erasmus+ programme and international policy dialogues in higher education and youth issues with various partners of the EU in the world. She has worked several years with the countries neighbouring the EU. Before that, she worked for the Tempus programme (for higher education modernisation), cooperating with Central Asian countries, and for the European Training Foundation, an agency of the EU based in Turin, on the reform of vocational education and training systems in the Eastern neighbouring countries and Central Asia.

Peter van der Hijden

Peter van der Hijden is an independent higher education expert of Dutch nationality living in Brussels. He studied law and worked at Maastricht University before joining the European Commission. Former Head of Sector Higher Education Policy, Peter helped to build the Erasmus programme, the European Higher Education Area (Bologna Process) and the EU Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education. He also contributed to Horizon 2020 and the European Research Area (ERA). Peter currently acts as board member, advisor and moderator for public authorities, non-governmental organisations, companies, universities and networks.

Nina Salden

Nina Salden is the Director of the DAAD branch office in Brussels, Belgium. Since 2012 she is representing the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Brussels vis-à-vis the EU institutions. The DAAD is one of the largest funding organisations for international higher education cooperation (
Before her time in Brussels, Ms Salden has been working for the National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation at DAAD headquarters in Bonn, Germany. Ms Salden has joined the DAAD in 2007 as head of unit for South Eastern Europe. Before her time at DAAD, Ms Salden has been working for five years for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Brussels.
Ms Salden has studied in Germany, Britain and France and is holding a Master of Science in European Public Policy.

Stefan Jahnke

Stefan Jahnke is senior policy officer at the European University Foundation, one of Europe’s leading university networks. He has been heavily involved in initiatives surrounding the digitalisation of Erasmus and is a long-term advocate for quality mobility. After graduating in informatics, Stefan was the President of the Erasmus Student Network from 2013-2015, where he been involved in different research projects on the topic of student mobility, such as the Erasmus impact study, the Erasmus voting assessment and the ESN Surveys 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, he has been leading the development of the platform. Since 2015, Stefan is policy officer at the EUF, where he has been working on projects such as Erasmus without paper, the Erasmus+ App, the online learning agreement, as well as research projects, such as the HousErasmus+ research that explores the housing situation for international students. Lastly, Stefan is coordinating the EUF’s training scheme, which piloted initiatives such as the blended Erasmus+ staff mobility.

Fernando Galán

Fernando Galán is a Policy and Project Officer at the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE). His work focusses primarily on quality assurance of higher education and integration of vulnerable groups. Before joining EURASHE he has been president of the European Students’ Union (2015-2016) and has served previously also as vice-president and as member of ESU’s Executive Committee. Since he began his university education as medical student at the University of Cantabria (Santander, Spain) he has been involved at different levels of student representation, both on national and institutional level. Fernando has been board member of European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR) and the Bologna Follow-Up Group, as well as serving in several advisory and experts groups in the field of Higher Education. He has contributed to important European level policy positions in the field of higher education, such as the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Area (ESG 2015).

Runo Isaksen

Runo Isaksen is a senior adviser for the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Higher Education (SIU), and has been working in the agency since 2007. At the time being, he is working at the Brussel based Norwegian Cooperation Office for Research, Innovation and Education (NORCORE). Before 2007, he worked at the University of Bergen for several years, as journalist as well as communication adviser for the management. Isaksen is the author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is a humanist by education and did his Erasmus exchange in Greece.

Klaas Vansteenhuyse

Klaas Vansteenhuyse is the Head  of the International Office at UC Leuven-Limburg (UCLL) in Belgium. He is currently part of the board committee on Internationalisation of the Flemish universities and university colleges (VLUHR). In 2011, he co-authored a major report on the impact of Flemish university colleges in development cooperation in 2011. Between 2013 and 2017 he served on the board of VLIR-UOS, Development Cooperation for higher education, as the representative of the Flemish university colleges (VLHORA). Within EURASHE, he also chaired the Working Group on Lifelong Learning & Employability until 2013. Klaas Vansteenhuyse also keeps a keen interest in the archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean on which he has published extensively as a Research Fellow of the KU Leuven and UC Louvain.

Nikos Kastrinos

Nikos Kastrinos leads a team aiming to promote the use of foresight in EU R&I policies, in the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission. He is a political scientist working in the field of science, research and innovation policy. He has been in the Commission for 20 years where he has worked in the fields of strategy development, in technology assessment and in the social sciences and the humanities.   He has also worked as an adviser on research and innovation policy in the Greek, Irish and Cyprus governments. Before joining the European Commission, he was a researcher at the University of Manchester.

Sophie Beernaerts

Sophie Beernaerts is the Head of unit in charge of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions in the Directorate General for Education and Culture in the European Commission. Before that she has been responsible for supporting school education policy development in the EU Member states and was in charge of the implementation of the Erasmus+ programme in the school, vocational and adult education sectors. She has also been in charge of the Europe for Citizens Programme that aims at strengthening European remembrance and enhancing capacity for civic participation at the Union level. She graduated from Solvay Business School in 1987 and holds a postgraduate degree in European economics from Free University of Brussels.


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