Commission pushes role of universities in Lisbon strategy

The Commission will issue a communication on the role of universities in the Lisbon strategy ahead of the Bergen meeting of European education ministers. Of particular note is its call for a creative mix of public and private funding. 

Education and Culture Commissioner Ján Figel has announced the publication of a new communication on how to harness the potential of universities in order to fulfil the aims of the Lisbon strategy. His comments came on 31 March in a speech opening the European University Association (EUA) Convention of European Higher Education Institutions in Glasgow.

He added that the communication, entitled ‘Mobilising the brainpower of Europe: enabling universities to make their full contribution to the Lisbon Strategy’, was due out in April but would certainly be out ahead of the meeting of European education ministers in Bergen, Norway.

One key issue in the communication is the Commission’s call for a creative mix of public and private funding. ‘How to fund European higher education’ was one of five themes discussed during the EUA Convention. The working group recognised that the funding of higher education is a public responsibility – an important principle for the EUA. Emphasising that it was about public and private funding, their first recommendation was to explore multiple funding models, launch discussions, launch structured discussions with the EUA and other stakeholders and discuss possible student support systems at European level. 

Figel’s remarks were backed up in a closing speech to the EUA event by Commission President Barroso on 1 April. Barroso noted that securing the future of European universities was unquestionably one of Europe’s top priorities.

He went on to express his chief concern as being the funding deficit of European universities, comparing the 1% of GDP spent on universities in Europe with the nearly 3% spent in South Korea. He cited Scotland, the hosts of the EUA event, as leading the way in this respect with all higher education institutions receiving a funding increase in 2005-06. He noted a rise of 32% for a knowledge transfer grant, designed to help the higher education sector contribute to the development of the knowledge economy.

Commission President Barroso has also said that universities should be allowed to develop innovative ways of closing the gap between new knowledge and the world of enterprise and commerce – a gap that must be closed if the Lisbon agenda is to deliver on its promise to use knowledge and innovation as engines of growth and jobs.

The communication’s call for a new kind of partnership between states and universities will also include:

  • more autonomy and self-governance for universities, 
  • full accountability towards society, 
  • the use of fiscal incentives and fees, 
  • ensuring fair access for all qualified students. 

Figel said that, together with Science and Research Commissioner Jan Potocnik, he would look into how to relaunch the idea of a European doctorate label. The label would be attributed to doctoral programmes with a proven European element.

The Commission President also warned that universities in Europe were attracting fewer students and in particular fewer researchers than their US counterparts. He implicitly called on member states to deliver on promises to eliminate barriers that restrict the mobility of students, teachers and researchers. This, he argued, would help attract the best brains from around the world to Europe.

Newly elected EUA President Georg Wincker (rector of the university of Vienna) welcomed the Commission's willingness to discuss new initiatives such as the European Research Council and the European Institute for Technology.

The EUA said that it was looking forward to the Commission's upcoming communication on universities and action plan on university-based research.

In concluding remarks at the 9th European Student Convention of the national union of students of Europe, ESIB chairperson Ms Vanja Ivosevic argued for more effective use of funding and funding from non-public sources and against tuition fees.

In its Luxembourg Student Declaration ahead of the Bergen summit, ESIB is also calling on ministers to prioritise student mobility by establishing a European mobility fund and pledging to ease or abolish the conditions for obtaining visa and residence permits for students.

In June 1999, education ministers from 29 European countries signed the Bologna Declaration, which initiated the Bologna process. Its aim is to carry out sweeping reforms of European higher education with signatory countries committing to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010. There are currently 40 countries signed up to it with more expected to join at the Bergen summit, which is a mid-term review of the process.

EU leaders at the spring European Council called for more mobility in higher education for students, teachers, researchers and administrative staff. They also identified lifelong learning as a must if the Lisbon objectives were to be achieved (calling for the adoption of the European qualifications framework for lifelong learning), acknowledged the importance of the Europass initiative. They also endorsed the European Youth Pact, in which they called for better recognition of non-formal and informal education.

A Commission consultation document on the European qualifications framework for lifelong learning is due out after the Bergen summit and before the summer.

A Commission consultation document on credits for lifelong learning is due out before the summer.

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