Skip to content

The European university strategy, focus or dilution?

Writing a strategy for something as comprehensive as the development of universities in the EU is not an enviable task. But the EU Commission has now made an attempt. The strategy is comprehensive in terms of subjects and the feeling is that most things have been covered. However, you may therefore ask yourself how inclusive can or should a strategy be? Is it a laundry list or the way forward?

Noted by way of introduction is that financing of universities is considered to be inadequate. In the same breath, the need for EU universities to be competitive from a global perspective is pointed out.

This promising introduction subsequently leads to a more diluted discussion on the role of universities as standard bearers of European values. It is clear that the focus lies on how we should make our universities more “European”. This is to be done via four cornerstones, the European university alliances (KTH is a member of Unite!), the legal status of these alliances, a European degree, and finally a European student card.

When it comes to implementation and financing, the Commission is hoping that efforts will be coordinated at EU level with national and regional support. Another aim is to unify and open higher education career paths.

There is an understandable, but perhaps also an unfortunate, excess faith and focus on universities acting as operational units in building European society. This can easily come at the cost of the competitiveness of European research and education. Naturally, nobody will come out and say something like this, but lip service can easily be paid to the idea.

A university should naturally engage in societal development at large. There is, however, a political over-reliance on and hope that universities will be part of the solution to problems within wildly differing areas such as the job market and enterprise policies, for example. Good policies for higher education in Europe must not solely focus on uniformity and European values. If Europe and European industry are to be world leading, the best European universities must also be so.

In purely concrete terms, the strategy links to European initiatives within digitalisation and not least, the Green Deal. This is a good and very significant signal. Something that is genuinely positive is what is written about the leading universities globally, within Erasmus+, creating masters programmes around the huge societal challenges together. This ought to suit KTH that is very highly experienced in international masters programmes. In this context, that written about academic freedom and university autonomy is also important.

On a final note, the Commission invites the member states to engage in the development of our European universities. However, to date, there appears to be very tepid interest in this among Swedish politicians.