special edition / Eutopia Week UPF 2021

What is Eutopia and why do we need it?

Marie Marchand

EUTOPIA is one of the 41 alliances of the European Universities Initiative that are testing and seeking the transformation of Higher Education. But what is it exactly? How did it emerge? What is at stake and what does it politically mean to be part of an alliance? Let’s try to answer those questions.

Family picture of the Eutopia Alliance with representatives of the Government of Catalonia and the City of Barcelona

The European Universities Initiative

Back in 2017, the European Council called on the Member States, the Council and the Commission to take forward a number of initiatives, including: “[…] strengthening strategic partnerships across the EU between higher education institutions and encouraging the emergence by 2024 of some twenty European Universities
” In brief, the European Union decided to fund some universities’ alliances that had an innovative and disruptive vision for Higher Education.

The six very first universities making EUTOPIA answered the first call and EUTOPIA emerged as one of the first 17 selected alliances of this initiative. The initiative now counts 41 European Universities alliances across Europe.

EUTOPIA is no utopia

is now fully working in its pilot phase and is made of 10 partners: CY Cergy Paris Université, Vrije Universitait Brussels, Gothenburg University, University of Ljubljana, Ca’Foscari University of Venice, TU Dresden, Lisboa Nova, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, the University of Warwick and a recent addition, Babes-Bolyai University.

Eva Wilberg, Chair of Eutopia, presents the accession of Babes-Bolyai University to the Alliance during a high-level event at UPF Barcelona during Eutopia Week

These universities share the same vision for Higher Education: to be geared towards the challenges of the future, student-centred and student-empowering, attentive to the plurality of Europe’s regions and place-based, and committed to the principles of inclusion and openness. 

But why are EUTOPIA and these alliances important to shaping the future of European Higher Education? What are the political implications?

Cooperating for the University of the Future: the political implications

First of all, these partnerships have allowed universities with their own specific way of functioning to share their good practices on many levels. It is a great opportunity to make our models more sustainable, inclusive, ecologically conscious and reasonably digital. That way, the alliances empower their communities and allow them to develop a new sense of belonging around common goals. Because of these mutual efforts and interests, co-constructing the University of the future means that students studying in those European universities benefit from a high quality of teaching and are developing the best skills when it comes to entering the labour market.

“Attractivity from an international perspective is yet another major concern of this transformation, allowing the European Union to reinforce its position as a leader […]”

The development of research and open science is obviously another great interest, not only for the students but for all the scientific community. If our universities can provide such excellence both in research and teaching, they will be more attractive. Attractivity from an international perspective is yet another major concern of this transformation, allowing the European Union to reinforce its position as a leader and to attract students, researchers, professors and experts from all over the world.

Presentation of the European Universities Initiative by the European Commission (Study International)

Within these new dynamics, new forms of mobility are being created. Since freedom of movement is clearly an asset in this specific initiative, digital mobility is something new that might develop faster than what we thought, mostly due to the pandemic. The world has been facing a lot of changes those past months with COVID-19 imposing a new kind of self-isolation. However, new kinds of cooperation emerged, and we have never been so close to one another due to the acceleration of digitalization. It is a simple fact of timing that the real beginning of the alliances’ cooperation happened during the pandemic. Everyone had to pursue and accelerate the new ways of communicating and working together from different regions. Hence, this cooperation is at first one between different European universities, but it also opens up new possibilities for the states themselves, and in that sense, this is highly political.

Conclusion: a way of reinforcing the European transnational ties

Some alliances are gathered around values they share, others around disciplines, but it doesn’t really matter in the end: you never work better than in an interdisciplinary, diverse and international context. Our differences are our strengths. That’s why alliances are highly crucial and political: they bring people together in a world that tends to be more and more egocentric.

This content is part of our special coverage of Eutopia Week in collaboration with the Alliance. Learn more here

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