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The new European Commission must make research, education and innovation a priority as it sets out the roadmap for the next five years. In Science Business, EUA President Michael Murphy presents a simple four-step outline on how to fuel the ambitious agenda and face environmental, social and economic challenges.

Europe is confronted with big environmental, social and economic challenges such as tackling climate change, ensuring citizens’ health, wellbeing and security, boosting economic competitiveness and creating jobs. New efforts at European level must be made to achieve the transformation that Europe needs, in order to build a prosperous, safe, inclusive and sustainable future for the next generations. Research and education are at the heart of tackling these challenges.

The great strides forward in our society and the big transformations in science and technology have always been driven by curiosity. The new European Commission must fuel this with ambitious support as it prepares its agenda. We need evidence about the state of the environment, about our changing economies and about our social fabric. In order to act upon the evidence, we need smart, flexible, well-trained people of all ages. And we need cooperation.

In fact, Europe’s strength lies in cooperation, its weakness in fragmentation. The new European Commission must focus on a few crucial topics as it considers its roadmap for the next five years.

First and foremost, the EU must put money where its mouth is

Any aspiration to tackle our challenges requires ambitious European investment in research, education and innovation. Europe needs a strong Horizon Europe Programme to sustain its knowledge base. As the new Commission wants to ensure Europe’s technological sovereignty, it must invest in curiosity-based research. Applying what we already know efficiently is important, but it is not enough to ensure that we remain masters of our own technological fate. The persistent underfunding of the framework programme for research must be addressed in the next Multiannual Financial Framework. Commitments to strengthen and upscale the Erasmus Programme must be upheld.

Second, the EU must keep its focus on frameworks

We need a strong European Research Area that provides a framework for smooth cooperation and helps build excellence across the continent. This must be at the heart of the ambitions of the new Commission. We need a European Research Area that ensures the free circulation of knowledge within Europe and with its partners in the neighbourhood and beyond. This will require common investments in infrastructure and common approaches in areas like, for example, data sharing. The Research Area should also be aimed at building capacity and spreading excellence across the whole of the union. Failing that, Europe will not realise its potential to produce the knowledge it needs for its societal and environmental goals.

The vision for a European Education Area by 2025 is a great opportunity for Europe in this respect. Our continent gets its strength in education from cooperation between institutions and mobility of staff and students. We might not always be aware of this, but the world envies Europe for the possibilities for cooperation between institutions that the Bologna Process and EU initiatives like the Erasmus Programme give.

Projects like the European Universities Initiative further reinforce the connections between European higher education systems, making them stronger than the sum of their parts, and moving the whole European higher education system forward. Harnessing this potential will make a solid foundation for the EU to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow by giving European citizens wide access to excellent research-based education. This way we are ready to meet and profit from technology-driven transformations and confront the environmental and social questions we are facing.

Third, the EU must invest in people

The vision for a European Education Area plays to unique European strengths that will potentially further boost the quality of higher education and give students of all ages the possibility to fulfil their potential. With half of young Europeans going through higher education and many older citizens in need of reskilling and upskilling, this is a key element of a European economy that works for all.

Fourth, the EU must have political will, coordination and dialogue

New, larger programmes and the realisation of both Research and Education Areas will require political will and vigour. A single Commissioner for Innovation and Youth that can connect research, education and innovation - the three parts of the knowledge triangle - and recognise the strength and importance of the different elements of the triangle is a very welcome innovation. Tight coordination and coherence between the innovation policies and the policies for research and education will be crucial to fulfil the overall ambitions of the new Commission.

However, we will need a broad dialogue and support for these topics across the Commission as a whole. Therefore, Europe’s universities urge the Commission to make research and education a priority. Europe’s universities are a key part of providing solutions to the many current challenges Europe and our world are facing. They are willing and ready to take on this responsibility for the Europe of tomorrow, and to work with the European Commission to realise our common goals.


EUA has joined 14 other associations and a growing number of 200+ signatories to call for an ambitious European budget for research, education and innovation. The call urges EU leaders to strengthen R&I by investing at least €120 billion in Horizon Europe.


This article was originally published on Science Business on 25 September 2019.


Michael Murphy
European University Association

Michael Murphy is the European University Association President. He has served as President of University College Cork, Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Chair of the Health Research Board of Ireland, and Chair of the Irish Universities Association. President Murphy has also served on the EUA Board and is Chair of the EUA Learning & Teaching Steering Committee.

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