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Note: Wag the Dog

VU International News and Reviews No. 108 March 12 2018

March 2018

The European Commission is frantically working to give head and tail to the initiative for “European Universities Networks” launched by French President Macron in his Europe speech last September. Since then, the initiative has been endorsed by the heads of state and government (Gothenburg, November) and the Education Ministers (February 2018).

The contours of the new initiative are beginning to show. Some 20 networks, not just for the elite, with a strong focus on seamlessly recognised study abroad with joint and double degrees. The strong intertwining of education and research, creating – as one Commission official put it – an ‘electroshock’ therapy to break down the silos of education and research.

All of this fits well in an ambitious way forward for universities in Europe – but there is one thing that worries me, or actually two.

As far as one can foretell, it seems most likely that the Call for Proposals for these European Universities Networks that integrate Education and Research in a revolutionary new way will be made as part of the ERASMUS+ programme and its successor – and not as part of H2020 or its successor FP9. This worries me because academic researchers will far more easily be persuaded to seriously integrate education into their research proposals than vice versa. Research proposals in H2020 and its predecessors and successors are taken far more seriously by academics than E+ proposals. We may find that awkward and unsatisfactory and ill-advised – but it is true. When it is part of the Research scheme, the dog will wag the tail. When it is part of the education scheme, the Commission is expecting the tail to wag the dog. That was a nice movie, but not a documentary.

The second worry is that funding, regulatory frameworks and personnel arrangements for research connected to universities are so vastly different throughout Europe, that any Europe-wide initiative to break down the silos of education and research that does not build on a sound knowledge of these differences – and a viable way to tackle them, will face tremendous difficulties. Somebody should make the European Commission officers aware of this problem and somebody (why not Aurora) should make a solid inventory and analysis of these differences.

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