The rectors of the twenty-three universities members of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) took part in the 37th Rectors’ Assembly, held at the University of Barcelona, on November 15 and 16. Among the issues to be touched on were the approval of the LERU papers on teacher training, parental leave and research integrity.
During the meeting, Xavier Prats, former Director-General for Education and Culture of the European Commission gave a presentation on the prospects for the new EU policy cycle 2019-2024. Jean-François Ripoche, Director of Research, Technology and Innovation at the European Defence Agency (EDA), held a presentation on defence research in Europe. Then, Paul Ayris, Chief Executive of UCL Press, explained the business model and success of UCL Press, and Ingrid d’Hooghe, from Leiden University, gave a presentation on security and espionage.
Javier Solana, former Secretary-Feneral at NATO and former EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, gave a dinner speech in the meeting.
Universities and the future of Europe
Over the last semester, LERU published four papers, one of them is the briefing paper on Universities and the future of Europe. With this publication, the LERU contributes to build the agenda 2019-2024. This publication is also intended for the recently elected members of the European Parliament, many of whom are new to EU policy in the field of research, innovation and education.
The document examines the most pressing issues through several interviews with LERU rectors. Joan Elias, rector of the UB, says one of them is that universities deliver crucial expertise. He argues that all students should learn how to sift good information as part of their university education. At the same time, he thinks it is important to keep the problem in perspective. He also explains how universities have a broader responsibility: to talk to those outside academia and bring their expertise into the public domain. In addition, he stresses that getting the knowledge in universities to policy makers is a more challenging task.
In this document, LERU asks how research universities can help 21st century society to cope with old and new challenges. The answer of this paper is: by training excellent students, performing outstanding research, forging scientific breakthroughs, producing new products and services. In a nutshell: by engaging with society and creating societal added value. As comprehensive, multidisciplinary institutions, with a long-term vision, bright students and talented staff members, research universities are one of the very few forces capable of rendering this service to society. And this service will be crucial if the realization of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is to be taken seriously.
At the same time, universities themselves face numerous challenges: increased internationalization, reduced funding, worrying fake news, criticism of excellence and expertise, demands for societal and institutional diversity, damaging cases of lack of integrity, the need for institutional collaboration, to name just a few. And the reality is that not all universities are ready or sufficiently able to tackle these challenges. As a consequence, their role of serving society is threatened, and society risks to be left behind, disappointed by and in its universities.
The other LERU papers were Equality, diversity and inclusion at universities: the power of a systemic approach, Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products, and LERU’s views on Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) in Horizon Europe.