‘A bottom-up approach is the key to success’ and ‘never start with creating a joint programme’. These were two of the statements made during the Neth-ER event ‘The Present and the Future of European University Alliances’. The event took stock of current successes but also challenges for the future of the alliances.

Neth-ER event “European University Alliances as icebreakers”

A bottom up approach

On the 9th of June 2023, Neth-ER, The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH), Universities of The Netherlands office (UNL) and the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education (Nuffic) organised an event on "The present and future of European university alliances". The morning session kicked off with Rinske van den Berg, project adviser for the European Research Executive Agency (REA, ERA). She shared best practices on research and innovation in alliances. Rinske said that alliances in particular provide a useful platform for researchers. But cultural differences and language barriers can create confusion. Because of this, it is important to  know each other well. Next to this, dissemination of developments from an alliance within institutions is also essential in order to create broad support among students and teachers. That’s why a bottom-up approach is key to success. Especially young researchers are an important target group for the alliances, since they are the future leaders within the alliance. With regard to research and innovation in the alliances, structural funding is essential. In which there is a role for the national government, Rinske mentioned. Finally, the call came to seize every opportunity to make your voice heard towards the Commission on experiences within alliances, for example through workshops, hearings, working groups and other events.

Equal vision

The second speaker Henny Oude Maatman, International Coordinator, shared the experiences of joining an alliance from Saxion University of Applied Sciences. For Saxion, having an equal vision about education and the involvement of the region was an important condition for starting a long-term cooperation with other universities. Saxion oriented itself towards the various alliances and chose E³UDRES², were they found a common vision towards the future. Furthermore, the alliance consists of partner institutions with strong ties to the region. Currently, although Saxion is an associate partner, they are fully involved in all the work packages within E³UDRES². To bridge cultural differences, E³UDRES² wants to work on creating a family network. Saxion will hear at the end of June whether they can call themselves full partner in E³UDRES². After which Saxion will put effort into a campaign for students and teachers about the implementation of E³UDRES² in the education program of Saxion.

Student centred

The next speaker was Magdalena Kohl, senior policy adviser for the University of Maastricht member of the YUFE alliance. The alliance distinguishes itself through a student-centred, open and challenge-based learning programme. In practice, this amounts to students finding solutions to current social issues in a multidisciplinary and international team. That way, students also learn skills such as collaboration and effective communication, with respecting other cultures. This alliances started with offering single courses, from which students can choose their individual YUFE Student Journey. Building forward on the single courses the alliance works towards minors and complete programmes from the academic year 2024-2025. For the latter, Bachelor students will receive a European Degree. For the minors and single courses, students will receive a diploma and a YUFE Student Journey certificate.

Don't start with a joint programme

Senior policy officer internationalisation for the Erasmus University and member of UNIC alliance, Daria Ratsiborinskaya, shed light on accreditation. Her most important message: ‘’Don’t start with joint programmes’’. Because of the complexity, Joint programmes only work if there is joint and firm coordination. This offers challenges for many alliances. One of the major problems within the Netherlands being the macro-efficiency test. According to this test educational programs should be able to demonstrate added value of a new program to society and the economy. This is mainly a time consuming effort. To help other alliances Daria shared a few advices, for example: A timely initiation of a benchmark with all the partners in essential. Alliances also could identificate possible obstacles, via an analysis compared to a SWOT analysis. Next to this, Daria stated that all available guidelines help during this process. 

What to expect next?

Tine Delva works as deputy Head of Unit in the higher education department of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture (DG EAC). Tine explained that the Commission is aware of the problems on accreditation. At the same time the Commission struggles with the principle of subsidiarity and the limited competence on national education systems, which is the responsibility of the national member states. In addition, the Commission aims to go from 44 to 60 alliances. The Commission also stresses that alliances need to show the added value more clearly to students. Furthermore, Tine mentioned that the Commission wants to provide the alliances with additional funding in the autumn. This financial bridge is needed because the 1st pilot generation received follow-up funding from the end of 2022, which runs until the end of 2026. The 2nd will be announced this summer and will be paid out at the end of this year and will run until the end of 2027. For the 1st pilot generation, there is a one-year gap for the current Multiannual Financial Framework. Tine also mentioned the possibility of follow-up funding through Horizon Europe (European Excellence Initiative). In addition, member states can provide extra funding to institutions, like Germany and the Netherlands. However, not all member states are able to do so, which could lead to differences between institutions within alliances, for example in how much time and people they can free up. Next to this Tine shared that the Commission wants to move towards a European Degree label. Furthermore, she stressed the importance to harmonise IT-systems, with SURF as an important player. SURF is the major ICT-cooperative for education and research. Tine concluded her presentation by mentioning the midterm Erasmus+ consultation. This consultation will open at the end of June to October 2023. Further Tine echoed what Rinske said earlier, to share what you need as an alliance. The reporting of this consultation will follow in the month of November or December of this year.

Local change

Peter de Boer working for the University for Applied Sciences NHL Stenden, member of the RUN-EU alliance, stressed the importance of making an impact on the quadruple helix ecosystem through the involvement of teachers, researchers, students, businesses and other partners in the region. The dispersion of NHL Stenden’s locations poses some challenges to make the alliance equally well-known and its impact felt across the different locations. One of the successes within the alliance is the introduction of Short Advanced Programmes (SAPs). These SAPs are specialized blended learning experiences that allow students to gain knowledge and develop future and advanced skills in a short time period. Currently students participating in SAPs are provided grants, but with an eye on the future more sustainable financing options are being sought. Additionally, RUN-EU is actively exploring the option of offering SAPs to external learners as part of its lifelong learning agenda. One of the key goals of RUN-EU is to connect education and research with regionally based challenges stemming from the respective partners’ local ecosystems.

Long term vision

Fred de Vries, head of internationalisation strategy at the University of Twente and member of the ECIU alliance, talked about the importance of governance and ambition. What many projects struggle with is living up to their ambitions. In several projects, the main focus is accumulating funding. This brings about the risk a the long-term vision is lacking on how actually spend the money, according to Fred. His main message was to seek cooperation and choose projects that give energy and align with the aspiration: ‘’time is more valuable than money’’. Following that, Fred also advocates improving administration and simplifying governance. This is the reason the ECIU continues to invest in supportive capacity in the following phase as well.

Being an icebreaker

The founder and chair of the Forum for European Universities, Olga Wessels, was the last speaker. The Forum is an informal network of all university alliances, stimulating contact between the alliances and sharing best practices. The Forum consists of a Core Group and subgroups. It monitors the progress of activities and coordinates lobby activities. One of the topics the Forum collaborates on, is the importance of developing digital systems for the alliances. Furthermore, the Forum lobbies towards the Commission and functions as an icebreaker towards the large and sometimes cluttered needs in transnational university collaboration. The Forum developed joint positions in funding, a monitoring framework for alliances and the importance of their R&I dimension. All current alliances are part of the Forum.

Lessons learned

The moderator of the day Petra de Greeve concluded the event with some lessons learned . It is important to include everyone in one's own organisation and building a relationship of trust with partner institutions is essential. In addition it is important to invest mainly in things that energise people. Furthermore, it is important to make use of consultation opportunities the Commission offers, such as the midterm evaluation of Erasmus+, and make use of the existing guidelines. Another lesson was not to start with joint programmes initially in an alliance. Petra concluded the day by stating that there is a lot of energy to tackle the challenges together.


All presentations can be found under 'Documenten'. 


Mede geschreven door Marouan Moussi.