The era of globalization is accelerating in the world of education. Finished the French diploma, soon, the students will be able to pride themselves on having obtained a unique European engineering title, directly issued by Europe.
This futuristic version of higher education could well be a reality in a few years, according to the project of the European University of Technology, known as EUt+. Led by the University of Technology of Troyes (UTT), the European University of Technology is one of the winners of the second call for projects of 2020.
Within the covenant, seven European establishments join the UTT : Hochschule Darmstadt in Germany, Rīgas Tehniskā universitāte in Latvia, Technological University Dublin in Ireland, Technical University of Sofia in Bulgaria, Cyprus University of Technology in Cyprus, Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena in Spain and Universitatea Tehnică din Cluj-Napoca in Romania.
If EUt+ is not the only plan for alliances between European establishments, it is the one that projects the furthest. “Many universities have submitted projects with very integrated networks. For our part, we want to become a single European institution“, explains Timothée Toury, from UTT, secretary general of EUt+.
With – eventually – a single European training, a European engineering title. This project matured for many months between these universities which were already in the habit of exchanging regularly and sharing a common approach to technology, refusing elitism.
The absence of “big names” among EUt+ partners is also perceived as an asset, with the idea of ”having nothing to lose” in forming an alliance. Where the most famous universities rather want to keep their name – and capitalize on their fame. “The Sorbonne will remain the Sorbonne, the TU München (Technical University of Munich), will remain the TU München. We have a greater interest, in terms of credibility, in becoming a European university“, explains Arnd Steinmetz, president of the Hochschule Darmstadt (Germany).
He does not hesitate to project himself, in ten years, with the disappearance of the Hochschule, which would give way to the Darmstadt campus of the European university. “Our establishments are all quite young, none is over 50 or 60 years old,” he continues. It’s also easier to have such a project in this context. We must not deal with ancient traditions or a culture“.
Conversely, he sees in EUt+ the opportunity to affirm a “European” way of training in science but also in scientific culture. Training based on multiculturalism, by opening students up to the cultural and linguistic specificities of different countries on different campuses, “unlike what happens in China or the United States, where the content is very unified”, emphasizes Arnd Steinmetz.
We build the diploma before having the legal shell of the European Union because there is no legal framework strictly speaking (T. Toury, general secretary of the EUt+).
In France, Timothée Toury already imagines very well what this new kind of European university could be where each campus would keep its level of autonomy while sharing common values and a feeling of belonging to the same entity. “Students would start with a few semesters in France and then move to other European campuses, depending on the teaching units that interest them. It will be à la carte. And even if English will be used more – we want to support them towards this multilingualism – the local language will remain necessary on site.”
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Before arriving at this merger, however, the establishments will have to meet several challenges, and not the least of them. For the moment, the Bologna process does not offer a concrete framework for such an alliance. The eight EUt+ partners are therefore groping to advance their merger project. Step by step. “We are building the diploma before having the legal shell of the European Union because there is no legal framework strictly speaking, warns Timothée Toury. We want to experiment with it, to see what there is to build. ”
Deal after deal, European institutions are thinking about common governance, with the idea of a single, functional and sustainable organization and administration. A rapprochement which must still take time because “everything is decided on a European scale, these are political choices which do not depend on us”, continues the secretary general of the EUt+.
It already goes through harmonization of different teaching modules, in order to be able to set up recognition of ECTS credits between the different campusesand allow students to validate a module with a partner, for example.
Another challenge: to unify training. If in France, the engineering cycle lasts five years, it takes place in six years in Spain. Similarly, on the question of skills, a German architect does not, for example, play the same role in the design and site monitoring as a British architect.
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These cultural differences appear at each stage of the EUt+ project. Depending on the state, the university will be public or private, free or not, etc. “In Germany, students have a powerful decision-making body and are stakeholders in the orientations and decisions of the establishment”, explains for example Arnd Steinmetz. A device that may have surprised some of its counterparts. The model of the European university therefore requires exchanges and discussions at all levels to find agreements.
Sometimes even at the level of the authorities of the Member States. In Spain, Beatriz Miguel Hernández, director of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, believes at all costs in the project, seen as a necessary for its establishment in order to weigh on the international scene.
However, the director is struggling to involve local and regional administrations in the project. “We are aware that we still have to convince of all that a European university can bring, she tempers. As with everything that comes from Europe.”
The European Union is debating the future of European diplomas but it must find local solutions to help us (B. Miguel Hernández, Polytechnic University of Cartagena, Spain).
Because if the budget does not seem to be a brake in the construction of the European university – the project has benefited from seven million euros under the Erasmus + program and Horizon 2020 for three years -, not all the member countries are not housed in the same boat. “We were reassured to see that the European Union was asking itself legal questions. States are debating the future of European diplomas but they must find local solutions to help us“, adds Beatriz Miguel Hernández.
Arnd Steinmetz hopes that this will allow his establishment to take more autonomy on certain decisions or in any case, to obtain new skills such as the construction and management of student accommodation, for example.
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Despite these obstacles, the European project already has concrete applications. In the field of research, where international collaborations are more frequent, EUt+ has enabled to increase exchanges and shared work, with the aim of creating five European research laboratories.
Through the alliance, as Hochschule Darmstadt, we have become more interesting as partners. (Arnd Steinmetz, Hochschule Darmstadt, Germany)
“We have had great successes,” enthuses Arnd Steinmetz, from the Hochschule Darmstadt. Thanks to the alliance, as Hochschule Darmstadt, we have become more interesting as partners. We have been trying for years to set up projects with the ESA, the European Space Agency, present here in Darmstadt.This had never worked until now. Now we are taken more seriously and recently signed a cooperation contract with them!“
In 2024, EUt+ should offer a label to its students – not yet a European diploma. Ultimately, the merger of the eight structures will bring together 100,000 students, 7,000 teacher-researchers and 5,000 administrative and technical staff. The way to go before this final step remains substantial.
“The idea is gaining ground in terms of priority in schools, observes Timothée Toury. We also see that other major French establishments are interested in it, are curious and besides, we don’t want to be the only ones to try this experiment. In any case, we will need more and more European establishments without setting aside local establishments. There is a balance to be found.”