U!REKA European Universities bid makes German headlines

National newspaper article reflects on U!REKA’s contribution in the first pilot call for the European Universities Initiative

2 Dec 2019 11:14 | Communication

The results of the first pilot call “European Universities Initiative” (EUI) were written about recently by the well-known science journalist and blogger Jan-Martin Wiarda in an article in the national German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Out of 17 successful consortia bids, 15 included institutions of higher education in Germany; however, none of these consortia involved universities of applied sciences.

Wiarda interviewed Prof. Dr. Frank Dievernich, President of U!REKA member institution Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, about the experiences with the U!REKA proposal, which was unfortunately not honoured by the EU Commission in the first round.

Research universities prioritised

Wiarda pondered if the European Universities Initiative risks repeating the mistakes of the national “Excellence Initiative,” which aims at fostering and increasing visibility of cutting-edge research carried out at German universities. This initiative was often criticised as only promoting established research universities.

Despite the intended broad focus of the new initiative, which the European Commission communicated and expressed with the call criteria, the picture of successful institutions is skewed when it comes to diversity of the HEI types involved and the geographical distribution of the university networks. The 17 successful consortia comprise primarily strong research universities. The EUI risks creating closed systems instead of inclusive and accessible transnational study and research environments.

Urban knowledge

Dievernich emphasised that the thematic focus of the call was a particularly good fit for universities of applied sciences, focusing on the transfer of applied research and teaching to the cities and regions, cooperating with external stakeholders and the industry. These are characteristic aspects of U!REKA institutions, which have a strong focus on urban knowledge.

The evaluation feedback revealed that “we haven’t involved partners from Southern and Eastern Europe" says Dievernich. "You can understand this argument, but we did not want to rashly expand the existing network just for the sake of the application.” Additionally, it was also argued that more fundamental research was needed. "Apparently, the strengths of universities of applied sciences are still rated differently," assumes Dievernich.

Looking forward to EUI round two

Structural reasons for the previous application weakness were also detected by Dievernich. Universities of applied sciences do not have the human resources, in comparison to universities, to handle large applications. Also, many universities of applied sciences are still at an earlier stage of internationalisation.

However, Dievernich stated that this reason does not apply to Frankfurt with +200 partner universities and the other partner universities in the strong strategic U!REKA alliance. Dievernich is convinced that the EUI will not yield to “elite clubs” (as suspected by others), and in the second round more universities of applied sciences will be represented with their alliances. When asked about his personal opinion about the European Universities he talks about "an opportunity to stabilise Europe at a time when Europe is anything but stable”.