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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special Issue - August 2003   
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 HOME
 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL
 'Let’s be proud of our researchers'
 Research: a vocation
 Choosing a mentor
 Momentum to move
 Drawn to the USA
 Everyday life in Japan
 Balancing the gender equation
 A boost for science
 Migrating to the private sphere
 The incorruptible Marie
 National associations of students, PhDs and researchers

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HIGHER EDUCATION
Title  University challenge

With increasing globalisation and competition, the erosion of public budgets, and a changing socio-economic environment, universities are facing the complex challenge of successfully changing without sacrificing their academic freedom or compromising their fundamental research and teaching missions. Given their central role in the knowledge economy and society, the Commission has launched a wide-ranging debate on the future role of universities and the changes they are confronting.

Minerve Centre - Free University of Brussels (ULB).
Minerve Centre - Free University of Brussels (ULB).
Standing at the crossroads of research, education and innovation, universities are strategically placed to influence the scientific and technological future of society. Yet they face many challenges in the course of their mission. Global competition, the marketing of knowledge, shrinking notions of space and time, along with changes in the nature of intellectual work generated by advances in the information and communication technologies, as well as the accelerated pace of knowledge acquisition, are rapidly transforming research and education. 

What responses will European universities bring to these challenges? To what extent can they take inspiration from what is happening elsewhere? How can they achieve and maintain excellence? In what way should they and can they contribute to local and regional growth? Where will the financing be found for the   Alma Maters of tomorrow?

'Europe needs to analyse its own strengths and weaknesses and to develop a European scientific approach, with its own programme and models for its universities,' states the European University Association (EUA) in its reply to the consultation launched by the Commission.(1)

Excellence in diversity
The Commission’s consultation exercise must produce responses to the demands currently being made of universities, which no one institution can meet.  These include the need to pursue a pioneering role in fundamental research, to open up to new sections of the population and democratise teaching, to train researchers, to capitalise on their research results, to fulfil missions of expertise, and to be more firmly rooted in the local socio-economic and cultural fabric.

For this reason the League of European Research Universities (LERU) would like to see a university system characterised by 'excellence in diversity'. This would empower universities to make the most of their specific assets and to formulate their missions accordingly. Some universities would concentrate on fields of applied research and on forging close links with industry and regional bodies. Others, specialised in first cycle education, would concentrate on teaching a wide range of subjects. A third type would be universities with a large ratio of doctoral students that would contribute to fundamental research.  

For its part, Euroscience (European Association for the Promotion of Science and Technology) proposes a dual network model split into centres of excellence training teachers and researchers, and publicly funded universities open to the growing demand for knowledge and providing free access to results. 

Spotlight on excellence
Whatever their speciality, excellence needs to be a common characteristic of universities. On that, everyone is agreed. There is a need to 'identify the areas in which different universities have attained, or can reasonably be expected to attain, the excellence judged to be essential at European or international level – and to concentrate on them the funds to support academic research,' notes the Commission. 

Among other things, this must involve increased interdisciplinarity. 'It is crucially important to maintain and strengthen the excellence of teaching and research, without compromising on quality, while still ensuring broad, fair and democratic access.'   

But who will judge this excellence, if not the universities themselves? How long will they give themselves to acquire this status? Does pursuit of this objective not risk concentrating subsidies and attention on certain institutions to the detriment of others? And should this drive for excellence be publicly or privately financed?  

A question of funds
Money… That is the Achilles' heel of university education in the Union. Over the past decade, the European student population has increased from 9 million to over 12.5 million. More students should logically mean more teachers, more researchers and more resources. But no. There is not a single Member State in which expenditure on higher education has increased in line with this growth in student numbers.

The difference compared with the United States is glaring. The Americans allocate 2.3% of their national income to university education compared with 1.1% in Europe. US academic institutions not only have more students than European ones, but also have on average between two and five times more funding per student. In addition, financing through private donations is a well-structured and highly dynamic philanthropic tradition in the United States, with active alumni networks and foundations.(2)

In Europe, this kind of financial mobilisation often encounters constraints linked to the legal status of universities and the lack of tax incentives. The 'sale of services', another important source of funds, is generally limited and sometimes blocked by legal restrictions imposed on universities, while some are distrustful of what they see as a slippery slope towards the commercialisation of academia.  

The EUA believes that 'universities recognise the need to attract more private funds and have more diverse sources of funding, although the situation varies a great deal from one country to another.' It also fears that only certain highly attractive institutions would be able to manage and achieve a balance between various partnerships. 'A clear mission and objectives are essential in balancing the risks of being too ready to comply with external requests, which usually result from short-term needs, [and] could erode significantly the values of critical thinking, autonomy and academic freedom, and also disadvantage specific disciplines.'

Transparent management
There is also the complex question of the many different and sometimes opaque systems of university management. Universities are rooted in the national or regional environment and differ considerably in terms of methods of governance, legal and administrative frameworks, internal organisation, and so on. The European R&D Advisory Board (EURAB) proposes the development of a transparent system for calculating the real cost of research as a basis for comparison. The EUA, for its part, says it is ready to conclude clear contracts for granting additional public subsidies on the basis of the strategic management, day-to-day management and quality assurance capacities of the beneficiary institutions.  

The EUA believes that the emphasis should be placed on boosting university research capacities by pumping resources into promoting new doctorate opportunities, interactions between different generations of scientists, interdisciplinary studies, and networks and partnerships. This would make it possible to attain critical mass. The association also stresses the need for financial and other support to develop inter-university networks for teaching and research. These networks would help to establish joint programmes at various levels, including teaching and doctorates. The process of adapting structures and methods has already begun at most universities due to recent developments in knowledge and the growing number of interdisciplinary fields.

(1) This reply was presented at the Convention of European Universities in Graz (AT) between 29 and 31 May, attended by European Commissioners Philippe Busquin (Research) and Viviane Reding (Education).

(2) This system of private donations, which are in part tax deductible, leads indirectly to a degree of public financing. 


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  READ MORE  
  Higher education, Researchers, Mobility: indicators and statistics



Higher education. Europe has some 4 000 institutes of higher education in 45 countries, 1 000 of which are genuine 'universities' on the basis of the criterion of being authorised to award doctorates.  

Researchers. ...
 
  European education area



Following the launch of the European Research Area, what could be more logical than a European education area? The process was launched at the Bologna Conference in 1999. What has come to be known as the Bologna Declaration   ...
 
  The knowledge society



What does this much-discussed concept really mean? Has economic and social progress always been based on knowledge? 'Never before to this degree, and never before in history has knowledge played such an intense role in the economy and the ...
 

  TO FIND OUT MORE  
 
  • European University Association (EUA)
  • European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE)
  • The National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB)
  •  

      CONTACTS  
     
  • Patrice Laget,
    Research DG,
    European Commission
    email


  •  


       
      Top
      Higher education, Researchers, Mobility: indicators and statistics



    Higher education. Europe has some 4 000 institutes of higher education in 45 countries, 1 000 of which are genuine 'universities' on the basis of the criterion of being authorised to award doctorates.  

    Researchers. Universities employ some 34% of European researchers, with large variations from one Member State to another – 26% in Germany, 55% in Spain, more than 70% in Greece. Universities carry out 80% of European fundamental research.  

    Mobility. Intra-European mobility remains low – only 2.3% of students spent a period of study in another Union country in 2000. EU programmes have proved a considerable aid to mobility over recent years. In 1999-2000, for example, some 100 000 students and just over 12 000 teachers benefited from the Erasmus programme.  Some 40 000 people took part in the Leonardo programme, which supported university-enterprise mobility projects between 1995 and 1999.

      European education area



    Following the launch of the European Research Area, what could be more logical than a European education area? The process was launched at the Bologna Conference in 1999. What has come to be known as the Bologna Declaration   is a statement of intent for wide-ranging reform of university education aimed at achieving greater harmonisation of the education policies of some 30 European countries. Meeting in Prague in May 2001, European education ministers confirmed their desire to concentrate their efforts on these objectives. They lent their support to the idea that higher education should be viewed as a 'public asset' which is the responsibility of society as a whole, and that students are full players in the university community.  

    The Prague meeting confirmed six principal points concerning higher education: 

    • the adoption of a system of more transparent and comparable university degrees permitting easy and effective recognition; 
    • the introduction of a training structure based on two main cycles with a   degree awarded after the first cycle of three years; 
    • the introduction of a system of credits similar to the ECTS system (European training credits); 
    • the promotion of mobility for students, researchers and administrative personnel; 
    • the development of common instruments with which to evaluate the quality of teaching; 
    • an increased European dimension in university course content.


    The next meeting will be held in Berlin on 18 and 19 September 2003. 

    Note:   in March 2002, the European Council in Barcelona expressed the desire for European education and training systems to become a 'global quality reference' by 2010. 

      The knowledge society



    What does this much-discussed concept really mean? Has economic and social progress always been based on knowledge? 'Never before to this degree, and never before in history has knowledge played such an intense role in the economy and the functioning of society as it plays today,' pointed out Philippe Busquin at a conference organised by the Catholic University of Milan.  

    Today, more than 50% of economic growth is directly or indirectly attributable to technological progress. The knowledge society revolves around four pillars: 

    • the production of knowledge through research;
    • its transmission through education and training; 
    • its dissemination through information and communication technologies; 
    • its exploitation in the process of technological innovation. 

    TO FIND OUT MORE

    CONTACTS

    • Patrice Laget,
      Research DG,
      European Commission
      email