'European uni excellent, under-funded'

European universities high-performing, under-funded, Tarrach


Brussels, XXX - Professor Rolf Tarrach is the president of the European University Association (EUA), the 850-member organization representing universities and national rectors' conferences in 47 European countries. He is a professor of physics at the University of Luxembourg, where he served as a rector for 10 years.

QUESTION: Your association represents the global voice of European universities, what is your opinion on higher education in the continent?

ANSWER: It is the most diversified higher education system in the world in which the Humboldtian ideal based on the unity of teaching-learning and research still exists and in which, if the relationship between results and resources is measured, in other words efficiency, many of the best universities in the world can be found. But it is also fair to say that the dispersion in quality of European universities is excessive and that many European universities are clearly under-funded. In other words, we could do more, but not much, without additional funding.

QUESTION: Which problems are you dealing with here in Brussels?

ANSWER: Brexit and its consequences for the academic world, the intermediate assessment of Horizon 2020 (the EU's framework program for research and innovation) and preparatory work for the next FP9 (ninth research framework program) are the three most important issues that we are currently discussing with European institutions. In the first instance, we are asking them to reach a quick agreement so that cooperation with our British colleagues can continue without obstacles. This is what we want and what our British colleagues want. Moreover, it will be hard to obtain concrete results on the FP9 without solving the problem of Brexit. We try to convince them that universities are an essential actor to solve the numerous problems that we confront and that, in order to take advantage of thus-far unused potential, it is necessary to have more flexibility, less bureaucracy, more confidence and more funding.

QUESTION: How do you imagine universities in the future?

ANSWER: We will have even greater diversity among academic institutions. The best, often the most expensive, will continue to privilege the experience of frontal learning, which will be much more interactive. Mixed teaching models will become more common, along with exclusive online learning. Research will also change, like technologies change. The main challenges will continue to be for each institution to find the most reasonable and adequate profile, fighting immobilism and convincing professors that they are first and foremost at the service of society and thus society needs to understand what derives from their work. A diversified higher education system will enable some universities to focus more on providing the knowledge and necessary skills for the labor market while others will focus on the generation of new knowledge and the promotion of creativity - namely research and teaching - thus providing the basis for the creation of new jobs.

QUESTION: In what way has the impulse of programs like Erasmus changed the scenario of universities over the past 30 years?

ANSWER: I think that Erasmus and now Erasmus + are great programs and have created a generation of true Europeans, who are very much needed by European society. One million of Erasmus children are said to have been born. Well, it is likely an exaggeration but even half a million would be a great addition to the Europeanization of our educated youth. Erasmus has made European universities more open, more diverse, more flexible. The program could improve so that no student is forced to give up on Erasmus for purely financial reasons.

QUESTION: What do you think of the Hungarian law that threatens the activity of the Central European University? (The new legislation requires foreign-accredited universities - like Central European University, which was founded in 1991 by Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros and is also accredited in the United States - to have a campus in their home country, which it doesn't).

ANSWER: It is against the fundamental European principles of academic freedom, university autonomy and the safeguard of institutions from exploitation for political motives or abuse in power struggles. We at EUA have published a very critical and clear statement on this initiative of (Viktor) Orban's government. As with Brexit, this measure will be bad for the country. As (Albert) Einstein said, 'Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former''.