LERU and Eastern European universities join forces
The decision was taken at a meeting of a delegation from LERU universities and rectors of the group of Central and Eastern European universities – now dubbed CE7 – in Prague in the Czech Republic on 8 October.
The CE7 members comprise the universities of Belgrade (Serbia), Eötvös Loránd (Hungary), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic), Tartu (Estonia), Warsaw (Poland) and Zagreb (Croatia).
The LERU delegation included the rectors of the universities of Freiburg, Helsinki, Leuven, Utrecht and Zürich, and LERU Secretary-General Professor Kurt Deketelaere.
Professor Bert van der Zwaan, chair ad interim of the LERU board and rector magnificus of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said: “I am very pleased that we can now announce a joint initiative to demonstrate to policy-makers across Europe that there is more that unites research universities than divides them.”
In a statement after the meeting, LERU said the ‘CE7 initiative’ will enable universities from across all corners of Europe to work together on issues such as the challenges they face in the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.
These include excessive red tape and underfunding in much needed areas of research and the wastage caused by low proposal success rates – heading in a free fall towards 10% or less in some programmes.
In some countries these problems are compounded by others such as low salaries, lack of infrastructure, sub-optimal policies and lack of prioritisation, LERU says.
Also, in the area of education there are common EU-level challenges, for example, in the area of student mobility, online learning and skills development for students.
The LERU-CE7 initiative will enable LERU to bring the common challenges they face, their joint views and agreed solutions to fora such as the European Research Area platform and the Open Science Policy Platform, through which LERU interacts with the European Commission.
The initiative will also enable exchange of information and joint development of policy positions to “improve the framework conditions for research and education across a broad front in Europe”, LERU said.
LERU and CE7 will discuss the so-called “widening” actions by the European Commission, specifically the twinning, teaming and the European Research Area chairs instrument aimed at Central Europe, which do not function optimally, and formulate proposals for better approaches.
Deketelaere said: “Together, we will take on a number of thorny issues, reflect on them, and show policy-makers that win-win solutions are possible.”
Regarding bilateral or multilateral collaboration between LERU members and the CE7, Professor Tomas Zima, rector of Charles University in Prague, said there is already considerable collaboration between LERU members and CE7 universities.
He said analysis shows that universities in regions with a more intensive and a less intensive research system can successfully undertake initiatives like joint PhDs, collaborative research projects and teams, student exchange, mobility of teachers, researchers and administrative staff, joint conferences and evaluation systems.
“It is our clear intention to increase these forms of collaboration in the years to come."
This joint initiative between Western and Central and Eastern European universities could be aligned to several previous and parallel initiatives by the EU, such as the “fellowships launched to encourage potential European Research Council grantees”, where the five countries, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, and the Belgian region of Flanders, have set up a fellowship programme to allow future European Research Council or ERC applicants to visit research teams of existing ERC grantees.
The present initiative could also fit in with the European Parliament project, Stairways to Excellence, centred on assistance to the 13 countries which became members of the European Union in 2004 and subsequent years, with the aim of closing the research gap in Europe.
Secretary-General Deketelaere told University World News that the initiative is not “linked” to the fellowships programme but it would be an element on the table for discussion.
“It's LERU’s intention to call upon its members and its ERC grantees to be open for possible applicants from the involved countries and to host them.”