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 European University Association highlights sector’s pivotal role ahead of European elections and explores the future of transnational university cooperation

Newly published EUA policy input calls for ‘A renewed social contract for Europe and its universities’, accompanied by foresight report that contemplates the ‘what ifs’ of Europe’s possible futures.

2024 is a pivotal year for the future of Europe, as well as that of its universities.

In a newly published policy input ‘A renewed social contract for Europe and its universities’, the European University Association (EUA) outlines how universities and policy makers can work together to shape a strong, open and future-proof Europe during the 2024-2029 mandate of the EU institutions following the European elections of this year.

In this document, EUA illustrates the pivotal role universities play for the future of Europe and describes how – as independent actors – universities can best serve society and contribute to addressing global challenges, while listing the framework conditions they need to thrive. It does so in the form of eight key messages on what should be done at European level, asking policy makers to work with universities to:

  1. Strengthen the European multilateral framework for cooperation
  2. Enhance the effectiveness of the European multilevel governance system
  3. Introduce a ‘university check’ prior to developing EU legislation
  4. Budget for ambitious higher education, research and innovation
  5. Promote universities’ global role as responsible bridge-builders and knowledge brokers
  6. Uphold the core values of institutional autonomy and academic freedom
  7. Develop physical and virtual infrastructure
  8. Establish dedicated funding for university leadership development

Welcoming the publication, Josep M. Garrell, President of EUA, noted:

In 2021, EUA’s vision for 'Universities without walls’ identified how the evolution of knowledge societies has placed universities at the epicentre of human creativity and learning, thereby making them critical to our planet surviving and thriving. This call to action is – today more than ever – an essential priority, whatever the results of this year’s elections may be. Moreover, the forthcoming mandate of the European institutions, from 2024 to 2029, will be pivotal for turning this vision into a reality.

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As the backbone of European innovation and development, the higher education and research sector has so much to offer in advancing our continent’s global competitiveness and long-term ambitions. Therefore, I call on European policy makers to seize the next years as an opportunity to foster a long-term vision and governance for European university policies, provide sufficient and predictable funding and investment, and ensure rules that enable rather than restrict - with due consideration for universities’ institutional autonomy.”

This policy input is the result of EUA’s Universities and the future of Europe (UniFE) project, which – inspired by futures thinking and strategic foresight methodologies – explored likely influences on the future of university cooperation for Europe’s universities in the next decade. As such, it is accompanied by a foresight report, ‘What if? - Exploring possible futures of transnational cooperation for Europe’s universities’.

‘What if?’analyses external drivers of change in six dimensions (political, economic, social, legal, technological and environmental) and outlines four different forecasts (Growth, Constraint, Collapse, Transformation) of possible futures for transnational university cooperation with partners in Europe and beyond. Readers are invited to immerse themselves into different futures through the different scenarios, each further illustrated with stories and examples.

Encouraging the European university sector to engage with futures thinking and strategic foresight, the report’s co-authors Thomas E. Jørgensen and Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik, respectively Director and Deputy Director for Policy Coordination and Foresight at EUA, remarked that:

“Only if we open ourselves to new ways of engaging with the future, listen, sense and feel into different scenarios, can we unstick our minds from present challenges and emergencies, and enable ourselves to change perspectives.

Then we can look at things from a place of possibilities and pave the way for action to shape a better future. In fact, the future is wide open!”

Throughout 2023, the European University Association’s Universities and the future of Europe (UniFE) project gathered and consulted university leadership, national rectors’ conferences and university associations, experts and student representatives for wide-ranging discussions on the future of Europe and our sector’s place within it. Inspired by futures thinking and strategic foresight methodologies, the UniFE project explored likely influences on the future of university cooperation for Europe’s universities in the next decade.

The UniFE project, and these publications, has been guided by an Advisory Board comprised of: Josep M. Garrell, EUA President (as well as former President Michael Murphy); Carle Bonafous-Murat, Senior Liaison Officer, Brussels office, France Universités, France; Katja Brøgger, Associate Professor, Aarhus University, Denmark; Jukka Kola, Rector, University of Turku, Finland; Amaya Mendikoetxea, Rector, Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain; and Snježana Prijić Samaržija, Rector, University of Rijeka, Croatia.

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