EUA : European University Association

Europe’s universities lack ‘genuine autonomy’ from state control – EUA Report

A new EUA study (published today - 30 November) analysing and comparing university autonomy and governance across 33 European countries highlights that universities still lack genuine autonomy.

While many governments, the university sector and indeed the European Commission have recognised that increased autonomy for universities will be a crucial step towards modernising universities in the 21st century, the new report highlights that in practice public authorities still play too central a role in the regulation of the higher education system and, in a large number of countries, still exert direct control.

Despite the fact that public authorities in a number of European countries have moved away from direct state control towards more ‘indirect’ steering mechanisms, universities generally still lack autonomy in many crucial areas, in particular in terms of managing finances. At a time when the overall levels of public funding in education are stagnating across Europe, and universities are increasingly being asked to look for alternative funding sources, EUA believes this lack of autonomy is a real threat for the sustainability of Europe’s universities.

The study focuses on more than 30 different indicators in four key areas of autonomy: organisational, academic, financial and staffing autonomy.

Report author Thomas Estermann, explains: “This report underlines that, while there is broad agreement between stakeholders on the importance of university autonomy, there has been much less success in transforming this from rhetoric into reality. Particularly where financial issues are concerned, if universities are not free to act in the interest of their students and staff, then the other dimensions of autonomy may as well only exist in theory.”

This report by EUA will form the first basis of a new two-year project to develop a scorecard that will benchmark university autonomy (on the national level) across Europe. The  Autonomy Scorecard will be a major tool both at the national level and at the individual institutional level, serving as a reference for national governments wishing to benchmark their progress on governance reforms vis-à-vis other systems, whilst also helping to raise awareness among universities of the differences that exist in Europe. The launch of the Scorecard is due to take place at the end of the project in the winter of 2011.

Download the full report for more information.

Improving University Cooperation between Africa and Europe: workshop on access to higher education in Europe and Africa" (17-20 November 2009)

On 17- 20 November 2009, EUA, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Flemish Interuniversity Council Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS) organised the first Dialogue meeting of African and European Rectors and a workshop on ‘Access and Retention: Sharing best practices between Europe and Africa’ in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

These events took place in the framework of the Erasmus Mundus project ‘Access to Success: Fostering Trust and Exchange between Europe and Africa (2008-2010)’, which aims to contribute to a wider discussion on effective inter-institutional cooperation between Europe and Africa, in particular with regard to student and staff mobility schemes, capacity building partnerships and government/donor support.

The Africa-Europe Rectors’ dialogue strongly emphasised the need for stronger relations between African and European universities as a mean to contribute to sustainable institutional development and to building teaching and research capacity. Also more multilateral coordination (between development agencies) in capacity building efforts, together with a stronger intra-African cooperation, was considered crucial.

Participants in the workshop agreed that investment in higher education is the key to societal development in both continents. While many challenges facing universities in Europe and Africa were similar, there were also notable differences. Whereas Europe is under pressure to diversify its student population to ensure equity and to reduce drop-out rates, African universities face the challenges of massively expanding their higher education systems, with limited human and financial resources.

The outcomes of the Rectors’ dialogue and the ‘Access and Retention workshop’ will be available, together with the presentations given, on the project website.    

EUA launches questionnaire for European Platform of Universities engaged in Energy Research

Last year, the EUA Council agreed to support the launch of the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA).

The European Energy Research Alliance aims to accelerate the development of new energy technologies in support of the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan by pooling and integrating research activities across Europe. EUA – which was invited to join EERA by the European Commission – is now building a ‘European Platform of Universities engaged in Energy Research’ (EPUE) as a mechanism to bring university-based research into EERA activities. 

To develop this initiative, EUA has written to Rectors/Vice-Chancellors inviting them to respond to a questionnaire to gather information that will demonstrate the potential contribution of university-based research and training expertise in Europe’s universities in a field of stated high priority for future investment of European and national research funds.

This will give greater visibility to university activity in the field and will point towards the potential contribution both to EU R&D programmes and to joint research programmes between national and European funding agencies.

EUA hopes that member universities will join this European Platform and would appreciate greatly your institution’s participation in the questionnaire survey by the requested deadline of 31 January 2010.

To find out more details about the questionnaire and this initiative please read the recent letter sent out to EUA members.

Download the questionnaire here.

European Quality Assurance Forum goes from strength to strength

More than 500 higher education stakeholders working in quality assurance from 54 countries gathered at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark (19-21 November) for a major conference on the theme: ‘Creativity and Diversity: Challenges for quality assurance beyond 2010’.

Through a series of plenary and parallel sessions (altogether 43 paper or workshop sessions), the event provided a platform for discussion and exchange of experiences and best practice among the main stakeholders in quality assurance. During the event, a wide range of case studies both from universities and quality assurance agencies were presented as well as the EC’s progress report on quality assurance.

The discussions demonstrated that attention should be paid to how the quality assurance procedures are designed so that they do not lead to ‘standardisation or harmonisation’ of higher education but genuinely encourage creativity and support diversity.

At the end of the Forum, it was announced that, following a decision of the Forum Steering Committee, next year’s EQAF will be hosted by University Claude Bernard Lyon I, France on 18 – 20 November, 2010. More details will follow through the EUA website and newsletter next year.

The event is co-organised by ENQA, ESU, EUA, and EURASHE, and is supported by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission.

Presentations from the event will soon be available from the Forum website.

A sideways commentary on the relationship of quality assurance and creativity was also provided by cartoonist, Patrick Sanders, who produced a series of cartoons during the Forum to stimulate participants to look differently at the ways in which they work (please see cartoon above – copyright Patrick Sanders).