25 universities join European University Networks

A further 25 German universities have now been added to the country’s European University Networks (EUN) national initiative, supporting the establishment of ‘European Universities’ across the European Union.

The European Universities Initiative is one of the outcomes of the 2017 Gothenburg Summit, where European leaders discussed education and culture issues. The initiative was established to strengthen strategic partnerships across the EU and encourage the emergence of around 20 ‘European Universities’ by 2024, incorporating networks of universities which are to enable students to obtain degrees by combining studies in several EU countries.

It is the one of the flagship initiatives of the EU’s ambitions to build a European Education Area.

The European Universities are meant to act as transnational alliances promoting European values and identity and featuring interdisciplinary teams of students, academics and external partners addressing key issues which Europe faces.

In 2019, 54 applications were received, resulting in 17 alliances of European Universities, involving 114 institutions from 24 member states. In 2020, 62 applications were submitted, and another 24 alliances comprising 165 institutions from 26 countries were formed.

In 2020, a total of 20 German universities were among the institutions forming new alliances. In addition to the EU support provided by the initiative itself, the universities are receiving funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) totalling around €28 million (US$34 million) up to 2023.

This money also benefits five networks with German participation which just failed to qualify for the EU support but are considered worthy of funding and being eligible for the EU initiative at a later stage.

Thus a total of 35 German universities are now involved in 32 of the 41 Europe-wide alliances forming the EU initiative. The alliances are being funded via the EU’s Erasmus+ programme for supporting education, training, youth and sport (€5 million for three years) and €2 million via its Horizon 2020 programme backing the development of joint research and innovation initiatives.

Germany’s EUN national initiative enables universities to widen their activities within the scheme and engage more in networking and in dialogue with politicians and society at large.

Furthermore, it is meant to draw more attention to German institutions within the alliances, for example via the ‘Campus Europe’ podcast series launched by DAAD last November, which presents the German universities participating in the scheme.

Networks ‘boost cohesion’ in EU

“The European University Networks boost cohesion in the European Union,” said Education Minister Anja Karliczek. “We need as many students and teachers as possible at the universities who can spread the European idea and European values, acting as bridge builders. The European Universities initiative impressively demonstrates that Europe’s potential lies in its diversity.”

She said of the European Universities, the next generation of Europeans should learn, teach, research and grow together through friendships. “In order for this great initiative to be crowned with success in the long term, it needs both national and European efforts.”

“The European Universities are there to perform as powerhouses and pace-setters for the future of the European Higher Education Area,” said DAAD President Joybrato Mukherjee. “They are there to enable students and researchers to experience a united and strong Europe in their institutions. And our national backup programme is an excellent support measure to achieve this.”

Innovative, cross-location teaching formats

At the core of the European Universities are mostly innovative and cross-location teaching formats. Joint, topic-oriented courses of study are being developed (for example, global health, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, neurosciences or sustainability) and coordinated curricula, automatic recognition of academic achievements and joint degrees are provided.

In most networks, the establishment of a cross-location infrastructure is intended as a first step towards a common campus offer.

Where existing university networks in Europe are mostly short-term arrangements for three to five years, this initiative is intended to support the development of networks geared to 20- to 30-year strategies, enabling a deep level of integration, University World News reported last year.

European officials have said the programme is full of ambition for “deep level integration”, perhaps involving joint curriculum design, development of complementary research facilities and diverse degree pathways taking in the specialties of different institutions in the network.

The hope is, for instance, that in a partnership on European studies a student could go to Paris to study law, to Rome for economics and Athens for history as part of the same degree programme, attending either in person or virtually, with a guarantee that the qualification would be systematically recognised across borders.

Michael Gardner E-mail: