Higher education and research face new emerging challenges amid COVID-19 pandemic


In the framework of the upcoming ETUCE Conference 2020, ETUCE organised a pre-conference workshop on higher education and research. Over 60 education trade unions from 25 European countries representing the voices of millions of academics and researchers shared their views on the most prominent challenges of higher education and research (HER) sector.

HER workshop 3

The workshop was organised ahead of the Rome Ministerial Conference which will take place on 19 November 2020. The trade unions of higher education personnel and researchers highlighted that existing challenges of higher education and research have been worsened and new ones emerged by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the number of students enrolled in higher education institutions is increasing across Europe, many education trade unions criticised the lack of investment in higher education and research as well as the abundance of fixed-term contracts which seriously undermine the quality of the higher education systems. They pointed out that the ministers from Bologna Process countries should ensure sustainable public funding in relation to digitalisation of higher education and strengthen social dialogue with the education trade unions.The debate also focused on academic freedom, as the core of education trade unions’ demands within the Bologna Process in view of the incoming Ministerial Meeting of the Bologna Process. It was underlined that the Rome Communiqué, the document that will be adopted by the ministries, represents an important step to encourage higher education systems and institutions to respect academic freedom and fundamental values which have been recently under attack in several European countries. Some education trade unions announced that they will participate as members of their respective national delegation to the Rome Ministerial Conference, a demand ETUCE member organisations request for years from their ministries.

The trade unions of the academics and researchers also pointed out the serious consequences the COVID-19 pandemic had on the working conditions of academics and researchers. Online and hybrid teaching resulted in unsustainable workloads for education staff and deteriorating of their health and mental well-being. Facing the increasing commercialisation and marketisation of higher education and research, as well as the pressures on the sector to make it more compliant with  labour market requests, education trade unions renewed their call for the respect of academic freedom. This together with decent working conditions must become the founding block of the European Higher Education Area. Participants also highlighted that the digital transition had revealed new challenges, such as the issue of intellectual property rights, open access to/of research or and the deterioration of academic freedom. To address these new challenges, education trade unions called on ministries of the Bologna Process countries to rethink academic freedom as a broader concept and to guarantee decent salaries, fair working conditions, reliable jobs and career development for academics and researchers.

For more information on the workshop:

Agenda: EN, FR, RU.

Background document: EN, FR, RU.