European Universities Initiative

European Universities Initiative (EUI): Strong Challenging Setup Calls for Strong Governance. The European University Association (EUA) reviews models of good practice in European University Initiatives and showcases UNIC.

The university sector is at a transformational tipping point, with multiple factors driving a need for greater collborative approaches such as globalisation, climate change, rapidly evolving digitalisation, different labour market expectations, economic and societal pressures and the recent pandemic. The European University Initiative provides a vehicle for establishing greater strategic and transnational collaboration through the creation of networks involving universities from several European countries. To date, 215 EUA member universities are part of the 41 alliances selected under the two pilot calls, with more willing to take part.

The ambitions for these alliances are high with the European Commission (EC) placing them at the forefront of the university transformation agenda.

The paper “Evolving models of university governance - The governance models of the European University Alliances” analyses the challenges arising from the complexity of the European University Initiative (EUI), operating across multiple Higher Education Systems, and the high ambitions of the initiative. UNIC is one of three case studies reviewed more closely and presented as an example for embedding governance into the partner institutions, one of the success factors identified.

Other key success factors are identified as buy-in from both the University leadership and the University community as well as a full understanding of the differences between the national frameworks.

EUIs face multiple challenges, that require complex approaches to governance: The conflation of objectives stems from a broad agenda that is both attractive to universities while underestimating the strength of national funding structures and institutional cultures. Enora Bennetot Pruvot and Thomas Estermann of the EUA remark in a related article, that “The priority is to ensure that the alliances stay focused on collaboration, and do not get overburdened with multiple objectives.”.

Another challenge EUIs are facing is the in-built transition from a short-term project governance to a more sustainable collaboration while overcoming legal barriers, including, at times, the establishment of new legal entities.

Finally, the complex task of establishing a European University requires additional resources and at the same time highlights the differences between national funding models. The systematic imbalance may force universities to consider medium term financial trade-offs and the authors conclude, that “this uncertainty around access to funds and the amount of financial stimulus need to be given due attention when considering alliance sustainability.”

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