17 May 2021

4EU+ (Sorbonne University): the roadmap of its secretary general to develop the Alliance

Paris - Article n°216929 - Published on 07/05/2021 at 09:35

By Audrey Steeves

With permission from NewsTank

Translation: Sorbonne University

"The transition to the status of association is an important step for the 4EU+ Alliance, and its symbolic aspect should not be underestimated, as it is a formal commitment by the six member universities. But it is also a very pragmatic choice," says Isabelle Kratz, secretary general of the European 4EU+ Alliance, to News Tank, 05/05/2021.

This new status, adopted in April by the six members of the Alliance, including Sorbonne University, will allow, according to her:

  • "Centralize and mutualize strengths,

  • Manage the day-to-day operations more easily and reactively,

  • For our external partners, to better identify a centralized structure with the general secretariat,

  • To more easily manage the common infrastructures and equipment, to carry out recruitment and manage teams, and to make contractual commitments. "

If one of its priorities is the development of the general secretariat, whose headquarters will be located in Heidelberg, it also has the mission to "ensure that the Alliance is present in the discussions with the European Commission in view of the 2nd PAA to be opened this year and hopefully bring additional resources to the alliances.

"The 4EU+ Alliance had published a "mission statement" in 2019, and we remain faithful to the principles and objectives stated. But it will be a matter of updating it on the basis of our experience and the actions carried out over the past two years," she says, adding that she is waiting for the European Commission "to clarify its expectations of European Universities by this fall."

Another challenge is to consolidate the Alliance internally, "because there is surely still a lack of understanding within the communities, or rather of information".

Being a European university "in the full scope of what Europe can be

4EU+ is composed of six research-intensive universities, all members of LERU or LERU/CE7 (Central-European universities).

"We are the only alliance of its kind. We advocate training through research, centered on the student, with a strong emphasis on innovative teaching methods. We claim that 4EU+, as a European University, must be a university 'in all its states', with its missions of education and research, but also of innovation and service to society," says Isabelle Kratz, concerning the Alliance's identity.

"We insist on the importance of multilingualism in our education and in the life of our universities. We contribute, in our education and research activities, to meeting the challenges facing our society, particularly in relation to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

4EU+ wants to represent the best of Universities and to promote the best of Europe; it wants to be a European University in all the scope of what Europe can be. "

The choice of association status

The move to association status is intended to provide greater flexibility. "With six partner universities in six different countries, we have to take into account six different legislations, so the creation of a legal entity enables us to simplify the procedures in certain cases," says the secretary general.

According to her, this status was the most common among the six countries: "We had considered a limited liability company, but this option was not legally acceptable for some partners. Other alliances, such as Una Europa, chose the associative status under Belgian law, but we wanted to have the headquarters of our association in one of the member universities, on the ground, and not in Brussels. "

As for the choice of Heidelberg as the location of the association's headquarters, she indicates that it is a logical decision, "because it was the University of Heidelberg that led the reflection on the creation of the legal entity, and we adopted the statutes of a simple association according to German law, with headquarters necessarily located in Germany. This is not a geopolitical choice. "

General Secretariat: organization and roadmap

Isabelle Kratz indicates that the general secretariat of the Alliance is a process under construction: "The function of secretary general has already existed for a year and a half. The idea is to move to a more developed structure, with more human resources, because for the moment the general secretariat is reduced to one person. We have therefore opened up two recruitment positions, also based in Heidelberg:

  • An administrative function for the current operation;

  • A project manager position to provide strengths in project management, monitoring of European news, including calls for projects, to encourage and support collaborations at the education and research level, and strengthen our exchanges with other Alliances. "

She also hopes to strengthen the general secretariat with the support of staff present in the partner universities, "to organize and develop our activities in several areas covered by the Alliance.

A role of representation externally, and consolidation internally

"The objective of this organization is to be more efficient by centralizing the daily management of the Association. As for its role, it consists of:

  • Accompany the steering of the Alliance

  • Support and enrich the coordination between the six universities

  • Ensure that joint projects progress according to the strategic orientations defined by the Alliance

  • Prepare the meetings of the governance bodies

  • Support the work of the 4EU+ teams in each institution

  • Ensure the proper monitoring of finances

It also has a role in representing the Alliance to external partners or other alliances and in consolidating internally.

"There is still a lack of understanding within the communities, or rather a lack of information. The way 4EU+'s identity is being built, I see it as waves on the water that progress little by little. We have started to communicate internally, which is starting to infuse concept and actions. Then we will reach out to our external circles, including our associate partners.

We can see that this concept of a European University is becoming more and more articulated with the global context, of European cooperation and beyond. "

For all these missions, she is in contact with member universities at different levels:

  • A political and strategic level, with the presidencies or rectorates via the governance committee and the management committee composed in particular of the VPs of international relations or European affairs.

  • And at an operational level, on a day-to-day basis, with the local 4EU+ offices and the project managers.

Budget: "We will surely have to rely on other levers than the European programs

The operating budget of the association is about 400 K€. "It is based on the annual contribution of each member. And of course we benefit from grants from the Erasmus+ and H2020 programs, which are used to finance projects," says Isabelle Kratz.

This support from Europe is something that the Alliance hopes to continue, "because we cannot hope to build and sustain a (European) University without substantial European funding. However, we hear talk of rather derisory sums for the alliances in the future. This is worrying, and we will therefore surely have to rely on other levers. "

It will therefore be necessary to seek budgets "through other calls for projects, European or beyond, and private partners. We are also thinking about developing a continuing education offer based on our own business model. "

Training modules, mobility, Train4EU+: projects under deployment

"Many things are already functional within the Alliance," says the secretary general.

The priority has been the development of a shared academic offer in connection with the four "flagships" or strategic axes of the Alliance:

  • Health and demographic change in urban areas

  • Europe in a changing world

  • The transformation of science and society through data

  • Biodiversity and sustainable development

The Alliance has just completed a second internal pedagogical call for projects which, like the first call for projects in 2020, resulted in the selection of some thirty projects (education modules, summer schools, online courses, each time involving at least three members of the Alliance).

"Each call for projects has been supported to the tune of €1 million, and the development of the selected projects allows us to build the basis of our future 4EU+ curricula. We have a positive assessment: we can see that the educational teams now have the will and the reflex to work together, and extremely innovative projects have been submitted. "

In addition, with the move to online teaching this year, some of the member universities, including Warsaw and Milan as well as Charles University (Prague) have opened some of their online courses "to all students in the Alliance," she says.

4EU+ is also developing its continuing education offer, in consultation with its associate partners.

Staff cooperation "for the benefit of all members

The Alliance is also about to finalize its reflection on the "4EU+ student" and to deploy a number of services. "We are working on the development of a student portal to facilitate communication and access to educational opportunities, mobility possibilities and services for students. This will help create a 4EU+ educational identity. "

In terms of mobility, while the Alliance has been working primarily on student mobility, "even though the context has not made it easy, we are gradually developing mobility for staff, academic or otherwise, and we are going to make it all happen by the end of 2021. "

The 4EU+ Alliance also enables the sharing of best practices:

"Some staff really do work on a day-to-day basis with colleagues from other universities; these are very rewarding examples of cooperation, with the complementarity works to the fullest for the greater benefit of the six partner universities and our communities."

Finally, the Train4EU+ project, which was selected and funded under H2020, is well underway, "with the objective of seeing how to further improve the organization of research in our universities by pooling and enhancing our respective strengths.

Cross-registration of students, credit recognition: challenges in the coming months

The general secretary acknowledges that a number of obstacles remain, such as cross-registration of students. "The construction of a pedagogical platform is underway, but it will take time, because it is complex," she says.

If she says she is very attentive to the European student card project and more broadly to the "Erasmus without paper" project, she points out the need for the 4EU+ Alliance to move forward on its own, "especially by ensuring that each university adapts its information systems and procedures. This European card will not solve everything, especially since the technical issues are only part of the subject."

The other important and complex subject is the mutual recognition of credits and the creation of joint programs and degrees. "It's complicated, because we have national legislation to comply with in terms of evaluation and accreditation, some of which are quite restrictive, such as that of Denmark."

A challenge that all alliances face

"Some have made good progress, such as CHARM EU (University of Montpellier), which will open its first joint master's degree next fall, after having completed an impressive number of steps with quality assessment agencies and ministries.

At 4EU+, we have made the very pragmatic choice of first collecting the building blocks on which to construct our programs and degrees. This is the whole point of these two internal calls for projects, which contribute to the construction of the building blocks of these future programs. "

She adds that the Alliance is also thinking about other ways to move forward, "for example with the Erasmus Mundus masters programs that give the possibility of creating joint degrees."