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Europe has a unique multilateral and multilevel framework for cooperation in higher education and research. For more than two decades, governments across Europe have built a common framework for higher education through the Bologna Process. Moreover, the European Union provides a supranational framework with common funding and policy cooperation for research and education.

Current and recent political developments have prompted questions about the future of European integration and collaboration and, more fundamentally, the role of Europe on the global stage. Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, democratic backsliding in certain countries, geopolitical tensions and an emergent energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war against Ukraine are changing the political geometry. Mounting pressure on political systems calls for a reflection on the place of Europe in the world and a rethink of the way countries work together within the EU, Europe in the wider sense and further afield.

While most competences for higher education and research lie at national/regional level, developments at European level are becoming increasingly important for universities. Establishing a functioning and open multilateral and multilevel governance system is important for higher education institutions. Moreover, this system should connect the European level with national, regional and local levels, as underlined in EUA’s “Universities without walls – A vision for 2030”. While achievements under the current frameworks should be recognised, there is scope to build upon and complement these. This is the time to rethink European governance and cooperation in research, education, innovation and culture, whether in the context of the EU, the Bologna Process or other potential constellations.

To tackle these pivotal questions, EUA has initiated a project dedicated to “Universities and the future of Europe” (UniFE). Under the umbrella of UniFE, the Association is engaging in an in-depth consultation process with its membership to develop concrete ideas about what Europe’s universities want from future collaboration and what they need in terms of framework conditions, political structures and multilateral frameworks. Through leadership workshops, interviews with academic experts and discussions with national rectors’ conferences, the project will foster exchange and distil common ideas.

UniFE’s outcomes will feed into EUA's engagement around the European elections in 2024 and the organisation's overall approach to European policy making as it relates to universities.

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