Cooperación en medio de las jerarquías
Enero 16, 2024

European university alliances ‘replicate existing hierarchies’

But study notes later modifications to flagship policy have started to broaden out membership in terms of prestige and geography
January 14, 2024

First proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the initiative was launched by the European Commission, using Erasmus+ funding, with the goal of “boosting excellence and inclusion” and establishing a European Education Area. The first 17 alliances were announced in 2019; there are now 50.

Researchers Agata Lambrechts, Marco Cavallaro and Benedetto Lepori of the Università della Svizzera italiana set out to determine whether the initiative had, to date, achieved its goals. Using the European Tertiary Education Register dataset, they compared the characteristics of the 44 alliances that existed at the time of their study.

“We measured excellence by the status of the institutions involved in the alliances, while inclusiveness was measured by the geographical diversity of the alliances and the participation of less prestigious institutions,” lead author Dr Lambrechts told Times Higher Education.

“We know that higher education is structured by lasting hierarchies, where institutions at the top of the pile have privileged access to resources, opportunities and power within the higher education systems. In the context of the European Universities initiative, institutional hierarchies can be problematic if they lead to a concentration of resources and opportunities among a few elite institutions.”

The researchers concluded that the initiative had “largely reproduc[ed] the existing hierarchy of European HEIs” and “strengthened existing ties”, noting that “most alliances thus far [had] built on existing forms of collaboration”.

“While the [initiative] claims to include all types of higher education institutions, it’s actually mostly limited to universities,” Dr Lambrechts said. “We found that the universities participating […] are generally larger and more research-oriented than the average European institution. They also have more resources and a stronger international focus.”

However, the study also indicated that specific policy measures, among them a requirement for “broad geographical coverage”, as well as the 2022 expansion of the European Universities alliances, had enabled the participation of more institutions placed lower in global university rankings. “This has broadened the scope of the EUi beyond the core of top-ranked research universities, making it more inclusive, and achieved more balanced participation by country,” Dr Lambrechts said.

Noting the study’s limitations, co-author Professor Lepori said that because the European Universities initiative was in its infancy, the researchers had been unable to “analyse how alliances work in practice, whether some of the partners have a greater role and some participations are purely formal”.

In future, he added, “it will be important to analyse the perception of the EU in policy and stakeholders such as students to understand whether alliances reach their goal of constituting the ‘network of networks’ in European higher education and institutions and partners enjoying greater visibility and reputation”.

Nevertheless, Professor Lepori concluded, “the study shows that the design of the EUi initiative by the European Commission was, to some extent, successful in generating a balance between excellence and inclusiveness.

“The European Commission should closely monitor the initiative and be ready to take correcting measures, for example, to avoid that less prestigious partners become progressively marginalised in the individual alliances.”

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