European Elections 2024: The European higher education sector sets its course

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Several European university and student associations and initiatives have presented their position in light of the European elections taking place from 6 to 9 June 2024. They call on the EU institutions to ensure that Europe remains an attractive and internationally competitive place for education, research and innovation, accessible to international students, researchers and teaching staff, upholding European standards and values and enabling a synergetic use of EU programmes and funds.

Key consensus points include:

Examining EU legislation for higher education and research compatibility

The stakeholder organisations are calling for EU legislation to be checked for compatibility with higher education and research, including legislation not initiated in the field of higher education or research. This is communicated through the ‘Universities for Enlightenment’ initiative for academic freedom and democracy, in which university rectors‘ conferences from 10 European countries, including the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), are participating (Link). As outlined in one of its 16 key messages published in May 2024 (link), LERU calls for new EU legislative proposals to include a research, innovation and education check (instead of purely an innovation check), to prevent barriers for research and higher education. At the beginning of the year, stakeholders from the research and higher education sector such as the European University Association (EUA), ScienceEurope and The Guild had already called in an open letter to the Director-General of the Commission, Ilze Juhansone (link), for the Commission’s guidelines on the Better Regulation Agenda to take greater account of the needs and concerns of the research and education sector. They argued that the impact on education and research should be adequately considered in all EU legislation, and should be improved through cooperation between different services.

Anchoring academic freedom in the EU treaties

Referring to the increasing threat to academic freedom in Europe and the proposal for an EU regulation on academic freedom put forward by MEP Christian Ehler, LERU  recommends (link)  that the EU institutions should take more legal measures to protect academic freedom, for example by including academic freedom in the EU treaties. With reference to the increasing threat to academic freedom and the violation of democratic principles within and outside Europe, which also affects students, e.g. in the context of their involvement in student representations and student activism, the European Students Union (ESU) is also calling for academic freedom to be enshrined in the EU treaties (link). The Universities for Enligtment Initiative for academic freedom and democracy calls on MEPs to ensure that European and national policies guarantee a strong commitment to Europe based on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms (link). ScienceEurope calls on MEPs to ensure that universities, funding agencies, research institutions, academic and other scientific organisations can guarantee academic freedom for all researchers, teachers and students, without referring to specific measures (link).

Synergies between EU programmes and EU funds

Another measure that has been repetitively put forward by stakeholders for some time (for instance, EUA: link, Erasmus Student Network: link),

and which has been envisaged by the Commission for years but has not yet been sufficiently implemented, concerns the call for a more synergetic and complementary design of EU programmes and funds. In view of the upcoming reconstitution of the EU institutions after the EU elections, LERU proposes the following concrete measures: (i) Writing the means to create synergies in the legal texts of EU programmes, including where necessary changing state aid provisions, starting with the next Multiannual Financial Framework, (ii) complementary timetables or designated pathways from one programme to the next, to be developed by the Commission, to avoid funding gaps, loss of talent and innovation, for example pathways between FP10 and the successor programme to Erasmus+ or the European Defence Fund, (iii) the creation of a cross-unit service established in the Commission, taking responsibility for training EU staff, including project officers, and Member State government departments and agencies, to better utilise cumulative funding rules, (iV) regular briefings by the EU Commission for project coordinators and the professional support staff of EU programme beneficiaries.


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