Four foolproof ways towards a better Europe

Written by Rolf Tarrach and Michael Murphy on 7 May 2019 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

To remain world leaders in research and innovation, Europe’s universities need more supportive policies and funding frameworks

Photo credit: PA


The new European Parliament and Commission are crucial players in shaping the European Union as it stands at a crossroads. With the upcoming EU elections, Brexit and many other challenges to contend with, the continent faces change and uncertainty. The 2019 elections are important for Europe’s universities, and the millions of students enrolled in higher education.

Universities play an essential role as centres of knowledge creation and innovative ideas. With half of the continent’s youth and many lifelong learners entering higher education, universities are key to empowering new generations and enabling them to contribute to society. Universities also generate most of Europe’s research, enhancing our knowledge base. This is crucial to meet Europe’s economic, social and environmental challenges.

Beyond knowledge and skills, universities are important drivers of civic engagement. As places for open and critical debate, universities bring together people from various backgrounds and with different views. Universities host many of the political and social debates that help shape public views, which in turn generate ideas and action where they are needed most.


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Universities are instrumental in delivering a competitive, sustainable and strong Europe. But to maximise their potential, universities need supportive national and European policies and funding frameworks. Here is where policymakers can make a difference:

The European Education Area

Outlined in a 2017 Commission Communication, the European Education Area includes initiatives such as creating “European Universities” as networks of institutions, as well as proposing actions to increase mobility, and the recognition of diplomas and study periods abroad. These initiatives will improve the quality of learning and research by facilitating cooperation and exchange between universities across Europe. This in turn will enable universities to respond to the needs of society, help tackle global challenges and empower students.

Europe’s policymakers must make the European Education Area a reality.

“Universities are instrumental in delivering a competitive, sustainable and strong Europe”

European research and innovation

Europe is a global leader in research and should also lead the world in innovation. However, unleashing this potential requires substantial investment in both curiosity-driven research that creates disruptive ideas, and in the innovation ecosystems where these ideas are applied to provide new solutions. We also need a European Research Area that allows the free flows of knowledge, especially through Open Science.

Universities are where innovation is created, often through partnerships with businesses and civil society, but they need European policymakers to invest in and facilitate cooperation.

EU funding for cooperation and mobility

The EU funding programmes for higher education and research, Erasmus and the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, are strong assets that give students and researchers the opportunity to study, work and cooperate across Europe.

Universities have capitalised on these opportunities to deliver high quality education and cutting-edge research and innovation. However, both programmes have suffered from underfunding in the past, and the current Parliament has rightly called for substantial increases for the next programme period (2021-2027), proposing €120bn for Horizon Europe and €46bn for Erasmus.

Policymakers can really make a difference by ensuring sufficient and sustainable funding for European cooperation and mobility in higher education and research.

“Without academic freedom and institutional autonomy, universities cannot fulfil their missions in education, research and innovation, citizens are denied access to knowledge, and policymakers are unable to act upon sound evidence”

Academic freedom as a core European value

Around the world, universities and academics are under attack and find it increasingly difficult to research and teach due to political pressures. In Europe, academic freedom is a central EU value protected by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Without academic freedom and institutional autonomy, universities cannot fulfil their missions in education, research and innovation, citizens are denied access to knowledge, and policymakers are unable to act upon sound evidence.

Policymakers need to reflect on how we can protect academic freedom as a core value in societies where truth can speak to power, and knowledge is for all.

The new European Parliament and Commission will play their parts in shaping an uncertain future. Investing in and protecting higher education, research and innovation are sure to have a major impact on developing a sustainable Europe for everyone.


For more information about the European University Association, you can visit their website at: www.eua.eu

You can also follow them on Twitter @euatweets, Facebook /EuropeanUniversityAssociation and LinkedIn /european-university-association/

About the author

European University Association's (EUA) President Rolf Tarrach and President-elect Michael Murphy

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