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The current state of the European Union demands new political thinking and action – not just “business as usual”. Europe faces a series of interlinked economic, political, societal and cultural challenges that might even result in the disintegration of the European Union. In the field of university policy, Europe has obviously not benefitted from separating research and innovation on the one hand and education, training and culture on the other.

In recent decades, the EU has not developed an appropriate vision for Europe’s universities. While this lack of vision is in part an expression of the different lines of responsibility for research, education, innovation and culture within the member states, between the member states and the EU, and within the European Commission itself, it cannot justify the lack of coherent policies at the EU level. European universities play a pivotal role in the knowledge economy of the future. Their staff and students are internationally mobile and are open to European and international co-operation. They educate the economic, political and cultural elite of the EU – not to mention the majority of the technical experts – who implement the EU’s innovation policy goals. Beyond this, universities are also treasure chests of European culture, making major contributions to the political cohesion of the European community of nations and societies. 

Universities are key in this period of crisis by successfully playing their role as centres of excellent research, as innovators for business and society as well as guardians in the preservation of cultural values, critical thinking and open discussion. These missions are linked and it is the task of policy makers in the EU to develop coherent policies for their support. 

Last but not least, a regulating EU “one-size-fits-all” approach should be avoided as it could harm Europe’s diversity and even weaken the existing innovation eco-systems. Instead, a supportive approach that involves and respects the different responsible layers of the European governance system is needed. Finally, we need to find creative solutions together. The next Framework Programme on Research and Innovation (FP9) is one of the places where we can do just that.

All views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.


Horst Hippler
German Rectors’ Conference (HRK)

Horst Hippler is the President of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) and member of EUA’s Research Policy Working Group. To see the HRK resolution “Creating a European Education, Research and Innovation Union”, please click here.

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