Press review

Europe’s higher education area in the shadow of Corona (Frankfurter Allgemeine ZEITUNG). Freiburg, Sept 23, 2020

Click here : to read the full article in German
Three years ago, Emmanuel Macron suggested to establish European Universities, including programs that allow students to study abroad and attend courses in at least two languages. The European Union funded the first 17 in 2019, and 24 further alliances in 2020. Now more than 280 universities in all 27 member states are connected and initially funded with over 250 million euros.

When the 24 new alliances were selected, the 17 “pioneers” received 2 million each to develop a joint research program. These grants are often used in pilot projects to test concepts and formats for innovative European networking. After the pilot phase, the pack in the EU competition is reshuffled and the selection process is expected to be quite competitive.

With the extension of the « Erasmus+ » program by its dimension of research, the European Commission aims to shape the European higher education area. Here, not only excellence shall be promoted, but the connectivity of partners in weaker regions as well. European Commission President von der Leyen now actively supports the development of the centuries-old academic tradition of Europe and sends a clear message: universities are supporting pillars of the European Union and European integration. Research and teaching belong together, should be developed innovatively, designed in a future-oriented way, and should be in direct exchange with society. Accordingly, the full funding phase of the European University Initiative will fund respective concepts.

The University of Freiburg participated from the beginning and sees great opportunities in the current European science policy. As of 2021, our consortium „Epicur” will be supported with an additional 2 million euros for three years to develop a joint research agenda. We particularly support scientists in early career phases, since there is no doubt that they will determine the future of our continent. In the context of Epicur, they will form research groups dealing with the great challenges of our time in the fields of “Sustainability” (with a focus on energy and new materials), “Mobility, Migration, Identity », and “Public Health”. The funding will allow us to stimulate the creation of joint initiatives, including scientists of at least three countries of our consortium who combine into “Epiclusters”. The latter also involve actors outside the scientific community, i.e. companies, public authorities, associations, non-governmental organizations, or city administrations, in order to develop a research design that integrates their interests, perspectives, and expertise. Access to research infrastructures will be facilitated and we plan to develop a concept on the joint use among the partner universities.

Three years ago, our journey on the way to a Europe of the future started. In the proposal, different interests had to be discussed and fairly balanced. Specific strengths and interesting complementarities with all partners were worked out for the benefit of the entire consortium. The added value of our inter-European and intercultural cooperation is clearly noticeable and has a learning effect for Europe: accepting otherness, curiosity about differences, understanding that other mentalities should not be regarded as annoying or ridiculous, but as an opportunity to get to know different perspectives, that diversity means wealth or that creativity inspires and leads to unexpected solutions, which is essential for a functioning Europe. Thanks to the European University Initiative, these insights are now also spreading in our academic administration and institutions – from the caretaker to the professor.

So we look forward to the coming years and hope to overcome many borders together. It remains to be seen whether sufficient funds will still be available for the « Universities of the Future » in the planned full funding phase after the frightening reduction of the EU research budgets and the Corona crisis. However, without substantial funding, this great idea will come to nothing.

This a summary of an article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeintung entitled « Europas Hochschulraum im Schatten von Corona » translated by Susanne Obert. 

Epicur – European Partnership for Innovative Campus Unifying Regions – includes the following partners: Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznan (Poland), University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), University of Freiburg (Germany), University of Haute-Alsace (France), Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (Germany), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Austria), and University of Strasbourg (France, management of the consortium). In its pilot phase (until 2022), which is supported by the EU Erasmus+ program with five million euros, the network is concentrating on the development of innovative teaching formats inspired by the Liberal Arts and Sciences Education (LAS) approach. Further goals and fields of action are the promotion of multilingualism, the digital transformation of teaching, and facilitating the mobility of students and university teachers

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