ETUCE is concerned about harmonisation of higher education


On 16 November the ETUCE Committee adopted the ETUCE Position on the European Universities Initiative and European Degrees in order to have an impact on the national level implementation of the Council conclusions on the European Universities initiative - Bridging higher education, research, innovation and society: Paving the way for a new dimension in European higher education.  After two Erasmus+ calls for proposals, 41 ‘European Universities’ alliances have been established as pilot by the involvement of more than 280 higher education institutions to set up joint programmes. The Council Conclusions asks the European Universities initiative to meet a serial of policy suggestions.

In the ETUCE position paper, education trade unions remind that quality higher education is not a commodity and that the European University Alliances should not change to private university consortiums. They are also concerned that performance-based funding contributes to further privatisation and commercialisation of higher education. Education is a public good and it should prepare students for life and employment, which needs to be supported by quality teaching. Education trade unions of the higher education sector worry that the mobility of academics and researchers, from one university to another can force them to work on temporary and short-term contracts. This process can further increase precariousness in the sector and have a detrimental effect on the health and safety of the teachers and researchers. While it is positive that the European Council recognises the importance of creating “more attractive career and working conditions for researchers and staff”, it constitutes a major step back from recognising the value of the teaching profession and the needs of the staff.

ETUCE welcomes that the Council Conclusions invites the EU Members States to “defend and promote academic freedom and institutional autonomy”. However, as the Council Conclusions suggests European University alliances establish “inter-university campuses”, ETUCE member organisations are concerned that the autonomy of the institutions will be negatively affected. There is also worry regarding the impact of setting up joint accreditation and quality assurance procedures by the European Alliances as these can have a negative impact on the institutional autonomy and national competence on education, and it looks like an attempt of harmonising higher education. The position paper asks for national and institutional quality assurance systems to be respected along the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). Furthermore, ETUCE expresses its support for the Council’s consideration of “protecting research findings and intellectual assets in conformity with the open access and open data principles at the EU level”. The position paper urges the development of adequate measures to ensure a balance between the intellectual property rights of academics and researchers and open access to knowledge. The paper reminds that the rapid expansion of the EdTech companies in the education sector has caused further challenges to the protection of the teaching materials and teachers’ intellectual property rights.

The ETUCE position paper asks the European Commission and the Member States to strictly monitor high quality education and inclusivity of these European University Alliances in line with the implementation of the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and to regularly and jointly monitoring the state of play of the 41 alliances of the European Universities.

The ETUCE Position on the European Universities Initiative and European Degrees can be found here.