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Final ESEU-project event about the much-needed European legal status for transnational higher education collaboration


March 4, 2024

Final ESEU-project event about the much-needed European legal status for transnational higher education collaboration


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Nearly 200 colleagues from all over Europe gathered online and in Brussels to discuss the way forward for a European legal instrument that serves the needs of higher education institutions. There was broad agreement about the need for such an instrument in transnational collaboration.  

Led by ECIU University, the ESEU-project was one of the four Erasmus+ legal policy experimentation projects that tested and implemented institutionalised EU cooperation instruments. The ESEU-project (European Status for ECIU University), as the name suggests, investigated the possibilities for the design of a European legal status to overcome obstacles in transnational collaboration of higher education institutions (HEIs). At the final event, on 28 February 2024, different key stakeholders and policy-makers reflected on the topic.

Tine Delva, European Commission Deputy Head of Unit Higher Education (DG EAC), opened the event with an overview of the national and EU level tools that are being tested by HEI Alliances.

21 out of 50 European Universities have already set up a legal entity, or are in the process of developing one, which showed the high relevance of a legal status for university alliances in Europe.

The preliminary findings of the Erasmus+ pilot projects, as presented by Delva, show that none of the existing legal instruments fully correspond to the identified needs of HEIs. Delva announced that the European Commission will mention the legal status in its upcoming higher education package, planned for April 2024.

Daniela Craciun, ESEU-project manager and Assistant Professor of Higher Education Policy at the University of Twente (CHEPS), presented the main outcomes of the ESEU-project. She described eight concrete use cases illustrating the need for a legal status. The ESEU-project also conducted 11 interviews with national higher education ministries. The analysis of the national context showcased that Member States still need to better understand the work of European University alliances, their challenges, and their needs.

Craciun ended her contribution by making recommendations for the road ahead. While the set-up of a fully tailored instrument dedicated to transnational collaboration of HEIs is the ideal scenario, the most feasible way forward is the adaptation of an existing legal structure like the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC). The seven recommendations to improve the EGTC, and much more information, can be found in the ESEU final report: the Roadmap on a European legal instrument for transnational higher education cooperation on the eciu.eu website.

Damien Bouvier, Associate Professor of Public Law Savoie Mont Blanc University, and representative of UNITA Alliance, presented an overview of another legal policy pilot. The EGAI-project investigated the use of a European Grouping of Economic Interest (EEIG) for academic cooperation, to propose the creation of a new grouping, specially conceived for academic cooperation: The European Grouping of Academic Interest (EGAI).

Eric Tschirhart, Professor at University of Luxembourg, presented the case of the University of the Greater Region (Leg-UniGR-project) adapting the EGTC tool for a cross border HEI-like entity, with transnational compliance. The results show a potential for funding, transnational and cross-border education, as well as recognition as an HEI.

Finally, two stakeholder representatives provided reflections on the presented outcomes of the policy pilot projects. First, Tanguy Guibert, Vice-President of the European Students’ Union (ESU), acknowledged the importance of deepening the transnational cooperation in higher education, and noted that ESU has published a resolution on the legal statute for Alliances of HEIs. He reflected on the need for student participation, freedom for HEIs and the tools that must protect student rights and conditions.

Enora Bennetot Pruvot, Deputy for Governance, Funding and Public Policy Development at the European University Association (EUA) closed the event, giving an overview on the Autonomy Scorecard 2023. The analysis by the EUA showed the many different frameworks in governance, funding and administration in Europe. The autonomy of public universities has multiple dimensions, including the ability to create legal entities, or decide on internal funding allocation. Pruvot compared the freedom of several EU countries on the ESEU use cases, showcasing the complex and multi-layered reality, as each sub-dimension varies across universities and across countries.  

Olga Wessels, Head of the ECIU Brussels’ Office and coordinator of the ESEU-project concludes:

The event brought together many different perspectives to the topic of a European legal status for alliances of higher education institutions, with a clear joint conclusion on the high need for such an instrument. The high interest shows the relevance of the topic. Who would have thought that a legal project could be so exciting? I am looking forward to the next steps in this field, as this final event is for sure not the end, but only the beginning of much needed changes to the legal landscape for higher education institutions in Europe!

Here you can access the slides and the recording.

ESEU-project is co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

ESEU Roadmap on a European legal instrumentESEU Roadmap on a European legal instrumentESEU Roadmap on a European legal instrument


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