On 28 February, the YUFE proposal landed on the European Committee's digital doormat. The latter will decide which twelve university collaboration projects - 54 have been submitted - will receive funds (five million per project) for a three-year pilot project. This should eventually result in real universities of Europe after 2023.
It all started after the French president Macron launched the idea of European universities during a lecture at the Sorbonne in 2017; about twenty of these should be set up by 2024. They are expected to improve student and staff mobility, as well as studying in different countries and languages, creating joint curricula and awarding international diplomas; in short, European university education that contributes towards a European identity and citizenship.
This did not fall on deaf ears in Maastricht, says initiator and President of Maastricht University, Martin Paul. “For years we have been working together with eighteen universities in Yerun (Young European Research Universities Network). We asked them: who will join in?” The universities from Bremen, Essex, Antwerp, Rome (Tor Vergata), Madrid (Carlos III), and East-Finland said yes. Then the university of Cyprus joined in too (“we also wanted a partner from the new member states, Cyprus is young and good”) as well as six so-called “associate partners”. The latter include a Polish and a Croatian university, but also an organisation such as the Berlin Kiron that helps underprivileged people (including refugees) to find their footing in higher education. Paul: “We do not want to be an exclusive club, but be open to everyone in Europe, although quality and talent will of course take precedence.” Exactly how will they safeguard this quality? Paul points out that each of the partners belongs to the best institutes in the EU.
YUFE is not primarily about research, Paul emphasises, but focuses first of all on education and mobility of students and staff. Preliminary discussions about this collaboration project started a year ago. From the beginning, both staff and students (who also sit on YUFE's board) expressed their ideas on the “European university of the future,” says Paul. A number of aspect quickly emerged: “We don't want to be elitist, on the contrary, we want to be inclusive. The education programmes must be accessible and prepare students for a Europe of the future. We will look at what courses we already have and what ones we still need to develop. The idea is that students are able to follow courses and earn credits in every city involved. Eventually this should result in a diploma from the ‘home university’ and one from YUFE.” Furthermore, members of staff will take a look at each other’s workplace and (among others) exchange best practices. In addition, there are plans for a virtual campus, and the social responsibility taken by the partners for their cities and regions is of great importance.
YUFE's objectives (the so-called milestones) have been meticulously set out in a timeline stating at what time during the three years that the pilot will last, they are to be achieved. Very soon after the go-ahead, information campaigns will start up in various cities, a series of lectures on diversity and inclusivity will be launched, followed by the introduction of a YUFE student pass. In the second year, the first partial diplomas will be awarded and the participants are reckoning on 250 enrolments for programmes in two research areas. These are a type of minors - short programmes - for which partial diplomas are awarded. Over a period of three years, there should be five hundred students for curricula in four disciplines. At the end of the pilot, the initiators hope that one quarter of the YUFE students are from groups that traditionally do not easily find their way to university.
The European Commission will take its decision in July. Should YUFE be among the prizewinners, then the first projects will start in September 2019. Paul is optimistic about the chances, but: “Even if we don't receive any funding, we will continue. We certainly want to realise part of the programme.”