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.