Don’t write off the European Universities Initiative too early

As we enter the second four-year phase of the European Universities Initiative (EUI), questions continue to abound about its purpose and effectiveness. Is it too ambitious to expect a handful of transnational alliances of higher education institutions to boost European integration and accelerate the creation of a European education area? Is it fair that universities that haven’t formed an alliance are missing out on a share of the €1.1 billion (£0.98 billion), spread over six years, that the European Commission is distributing to those that have? Some commentators even worry about the consequences for the overall ecosystem of European higher education if European university alliances are too successful.

The european-strategy-for-universities-graphic-version.pdf”EUI concept is an attractive one. Pooling multinational expertise, platforms and resources to deliver joint curricula or modules covering various disciplines gives rise to flexible curricula that students can personalise, alongside the informal learning experiences that accrue by studying across European campuses.

But there is no doubt that there are significant obstacles to the success of EUIs. Clearly the funding model is unhelpful. The piecemeal nature of Erasmus+ project-based funding for such a long-term initiative is very challenging. As Ludovic Thilly, coordinator of the EC2U Alliance, says, the administrative burden of applying for project funding is “very much undermining” capacity for core activities, posing the risk that the initiative will “just die”.

There is also no doubt that the amount of funding provided does not match the scale of anyone’s ambition. For instance, it covers only 50 per cent of the costs associated with the Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) alliance, of which my institution, the University of Essex, is a member. It means that universities can engage only to the extent that they can afford to.

The scale of federalist ambition to create a new

Read the rest