European Universities Initiative

The European Parliament
© DAAD/Haidau

In his Sorbonne speech in September 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron proposed to create at least 20 European Universities by 2024, building “a network of universities across Europe with programmes that have all their students study abroad and take classes in at least two languages. These European Universities will also be drivers of educational innovation and the quest for excellence.”

Member States’ support for the initiative was reaffirmed in particular in the Council Resolution of February 2021 on a “Strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training with a view to the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030)”, which states: “Higher education institutions are encouraged to find new forms of closer cooperation over the next 10 years, in particular through the creation of transnational alliances (…) and through the full implementation of the ‘European Universities’ initiative.” The Council conclusions on the European Universities initiative adopted on 17 May 2021 call on the Member States and the Commission to “explore more sustainable funding instruments for ‘European Universities’, taking into account the diversity of cooperation models.

The “European Universities” initiative is a flagship initiative of the European Commission’s European Higher Education Strategy (2022), which aims, among other things, to increase the number of university alliances to 60 by mid-2024 – with 500 participating universities.

The term universities should be understood in the broadest sense of all kinds of higher education institutions.

European Universities have an ambitious mandate aimed to trigger unprecedented levels of institutionalised cooperation between higher education institutions, making it systemic, structural and sustainable.

More specifically European Universities aim to establish the following three key components:

  • A shared, integrated, long-term joint strategy for education with, where possible, links to research and innovation and society at large
  • A European higher education inter-university campus offering curricula where students, doctoral candidates and staff can experience mobility at all study levels
  • European knowledge-creating teams addressing together societal challenges in a multi-disciplinary approach

In addition, the “European Universities” should gradually develop their capacity to act as models of good practice in order to further enhance the quality, international competitiveness and attractiveness of the European higher education landscape.

European Universities in Erasmus+

Erasmus+© Erasmus+

At EU level, the EU education and mobility programme Erasmus+ is the central programme for the implementation of the initiative. Under key action 2, the European Commission published the call for proposals for the first pilot in October 2018 and for the second pilot in November 2019.




1. Pilot Call – To the call for proposals (EACEA)

A total of 54 applications were submitted for the first pilot call. They cover more than 300 universities from 31 countries, including all EU Member States. To the press release

17 networks have been selected, each receiving a maximum of 5 million euros over 3 years. To the results of the first pilot call

2. Pilot Call – To the call for proposals (SEDIA)

From 62 applications, 24 networks have been selected, each receiving a maximum of 5 million euros over 3 years. To the results of the second pilot call

  • Composition of the consortium: a minimum of 3 universities from 3 Erasmus+ programme countries (in possession of a valid Erasmus University Charter ECHE)
  • Possibility of associated alliances for public/private organisations from Erasmus+ programme countries, which operate in the field of education, research or innovation (associated partner do not receive funding from the programme)
  • One coordinator acts on behalf of the consortium

  • European Universities consist in bottom-up networks of European universities, pursuing a common, long-term strategy for cooperation;
  • The support should allow existing networks to scale up their cooperation on a new/higher level;
  • European Universities offer integrated mobility for students, scientists and staff, and facilitate knowledge transfer across borders;
  • European Universities offer innovative study concepts (incl. digital services, the integration of research in teaching, the learning and practising of different languages, team-oriented work on societal challenges etc.) and cooperate closely in the fields of education, research and innovation;
  • European Universities contribute to regional development;
  • European Universities mirror Europe’s diversity (geographically – different types of higher education institutions);
  • European Universities are socially inclusive, promote European values and strengthen European cohesion;
  • In the long run, European Universities can contribute to the development of policies, such as a European diploma and a European status.

If you have any questions, please contact the DAAD Beratungsportal für Kooperationsprojekte (counselling portal for cooperation projects).

Further information about the initiative are available on the websites of the Directorate-General Education and Culture (DG EAC) and of the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).

The Commission published individual factsheets about the 41 selected networks.

European Universities in Horizon 2020

Europäische Kommission© Europäische Kommission

The EU research programme in its former generation (Horizon 2020 ) provides additional funding amounting to maximal 2 million euros per alliance for a research dimension of European Universities under the chapter “Science with and for society”. The first 17 alliances received their funding commitment of EUR 2 million each on 22 July 2020.

To the press release

What are the next steps?

The results of the pilot calls will be incorporated into the design of a comprehensive funding line under the subsequent Erasmus+ programme. Following a positive evaluation in 2021, the successful networks shall be able to apply for further funding. The programme proposals for Erasmus+ 2021-2027 and Horizon Europe, the forthcoming EU research framework programme, provide for the possibility of providing support for ‘European Universities’ and creating synergies between EU funding programmes.

In the new European Skills Agenda, the European Commission outlines how the European Universities should be rolled out as long-term, transnational alliances between universities across Europe, setting new standards for the entire European Education Area and the European Research Area.

On the German side, the European Universities initiative is flanked by a national supplementary, preparatory and accompanying programme for German universities.  Further information can be found on the homepage of the DAAD Head Office.


The DAAD has contributed to shape the idea of European Universities from the start. In April 2018, the DAAD Brussels office organised a European workshop on this topic in Brussels together with the Permanent Representation of Germany and the German Rectors’ Conference.
To the event page

The National Agency for EU Higher Education Cooperation within DAAD has taken on the task to inform and advise German higher education institutions about the application process for the Erasmus+ pilot.
To the NA DAAD website (in German)

Unit P13 – Research and Internationalisation, University Networks in the DAAD is responsible for the national supporting programme for the European Universities (see above).

Weitere nützliche Links

Website of the EU-Commission about the European University Initiative

The fifth Erasmus+ call for proposals supports the further rollout of the European Universities initiative, allowing an expansion to at least 60 European Universities by mid-2024, in line with the European strategy for universities.


New DAAD podcast

Representatives of a German partner higher education institution discussed the objectives and concrete experiences within their respective European University Alliance as well as their contribution to global challenges such as the Covid 19 pandemic.

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Position Paper

Find here the position paper on European Universities by the DAAD's umbrella organisation ACA.

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