European university networks are now moving forward to build ‘Networks of European Universities’ along the lines French President Emmanuel Macron proposed at his Sorbonne speech in September 2017. 

The ‘4EU-alliance’ makes a lot of sense

The European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU), comprising 12 members, including the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Twente in the Netherlands, Linköping University in Sweden and Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, with a secretariat in Brussels and its own webpage, has endorsed Macron’s vision for a network of European universities.

”The development of several European Universities Networks (EUNs) offers an excellent opportunity to bring the best of individual universities in Europe together,” ECIU says in its position paper published last week.



The position paper coincides with the European Commission’s multi-annual budget proposal 2021-27, which calls for a doubling of the Erasmus+ budget to €30 billion (US$36 billion).

ECIU said that the Macron’s proposal for European Universities Networks is an important opportunity to catalyse educational innovations such as student-centred learning, flexible education and the European curricula.

Networking is also good for universities

ECIU has presented 10 criteria for maximising the impact of the EUNs and five action lines on how these criteria can be fulfilled by funding opportunities. A strong ambition is for high societal impact of educational investments and “to be internationally competitive in an ever faster developing world”. ECIU is further advocating experimentation with new organisational forms of collaboration, different delivery models of educational programmes and extended public-private partnerships.




Other criteria for enhanced European universities networks are the knowledge-triangle, mutual trust, openness to the world and open governance structures.

European network responses

    The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities

  1. The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities in March published a position paper entitled “Shaping European Universities of the Future”, addressing Macron’s vision through clear strategic objectives, committed leadership, long-term commitment and bottom-up initiatives.
  2. The Guild is supporting the 2024 goal of 20 networks of European universities set up by a bottom-up principle of comprising ”four to six member universities”. The Guild “embraces the vision of creating new and transformative strategies of ‘universities of the future’”, that can act as role models contributing to the modernisation of the university sector in Europe. In addition, it will be crucial that “the networks are ambitious and innovative in developing deeper collaboration, while remaining open and transparent, to maximise their outreach and impact”.

    League of European Research Universities

  3. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) in February warned against “mediocrity” in EU university networks.


  4. LERU Secretary-General Kurt Deketelaere said in an article in Times Higher Education that he hoped the selection of European universities networks would illustrate the excellence of European universities in research, education and innovation, and that therefore the EU support should not go to consortia that were just ticking the right policy or political boxes in the selection procedure, without being an ambassador for Europe’s excellence.

    European Confederation of the University

  5. The European Confederation of the University of the Greater Region (hereafter abbreviated to UniGR) said by setting the objective of creating around 20 European universities networks by 2024, Macron, in his September 2017 speech, and the European Council of 14 December 2017 have “breathed new life into the European Higher Education Area”.
  6. UniGR

  7. UniGR is composed of six universities, Technische Universitat Kaiserslautern, University of Liege, University of Lorraine, University of Luxembourg, Saarland University and Trier University, located in the Greater Region on the border of four European countries (Germany, Belgium, France and Luxembourg).
  8. ¿Sirve la universidad para aparcar a los jóvenes?

    UniGR has since 2008 pursued its ambition to develop a continuous and sustainable collaboration and to define a joint development strategy around projects with high added value. It now has a common legal structure and is developing its activity in both the fields of training and research. The UniGR sees the ‘European universities’ initiative as an exceptional opportunity to strengthen the competitiveness of European higher education through targeted cooperation.

    The Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Higher Education (SIU)

    SIU said in a letter to the European Commission in March that as membership of the European universities networks will be available to a limited number of institutions, and the objectives are very ambitious, the commission could consider requiring existing cooperation between partners within Horizon 2020, Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees, or Erasmus+ Key Action 2 as a pre-requisite for applying. SIU argued that proven results from previous cooperation would strengthen the potential impact of the networks.



    It also said the projects should involve universities in at least three programme countries and there should be a restriction on the number of applications per institution. The projects should be “focused within a thematic area, but include multidisciplinary cooperation”.