2019: A crucial year for Europe and universities

Thursday, 10 January 2019

In 2019, the EU will welcome a new leadership, face the final chapter of Brexit and set the rules for its new research and education programmes. At the same time, new technologies, larger and more diverse student populations, constraints on academic freedom and new ways to learn and teach will have a strong impact on the longer-term opportunities and challenges at Europe’s universities.
Looking at the European scene, the UK is set to leave the EU at the end of March, and it is still not clear whether this will happen with or without a deal, leaving research collaborations and education partnerships in a state of uncertainty.
Concurrently, the negotiations on the next long-term EU budget will move into a critical phase. If all goes as the Commission wants, there will be an agreement on the EU programmes, including Horizon Europe and Erasmus, in the spring. However, the negotiations might carry into two other important events: the European Parliament elections before the summer and the new European Commission taking office, likely in the autumn.
For the European elections, EUA sincerely hopes that universities will facilitate debates and engage citizens. EUA and several national rectors’ conferences will be active during the campaigns asking candidates to explain their positions on European policies regarding universities. As for the new Commission, the change of guard means new priorities. The EU will have new commissioners with fresh ideas about research, education, and innovation, as well as the direction of Europe in general.
In parallel, universities will be playing an active role in society, addressing learning and teaching enhancement as a major item on the agenda. They will be tackling larger and more diverse student bodies, changing labour markets and the need for diversity and inclusion policies.
Technology driving change will be a key factor. The digital transformation is moving ahead with new opportunities for learning and teaching, research and innovation, as well as institutional management. These give universities opportunities to play a central role in shaping innovation and advancing society towards a sustainable future.
Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are also high on the agenda as academics and students are increasingly under pressure all around the world. Just before the New Year, the EU saw the first case of a legally established university, the Central European University in Hungary, being forced to leave its country.