The high level of commitment on the part of Swiss universities in 2023 demonstrates the importance of the “European Universities” initiative for the Swiss higher education area. The Erasmus+ “European Universities” provide a framework for participating institutions to engage in strategic cooperation across Europe in education, research, innovation and service to society.
Participation in the initiative cannot replace association with EU programmes, but it is crucial for Swiss higher education institutions to network and help shape European higher education policy. The initiative and the interest in it underline the high value of transnational educational cooperation within Europe and beyond. At the SwissCore Annual Event in Brussels on 27 June, State Secretary Martina Hirayama emphasised that Switzerland has a major interest in strengthening European cooperation in education, research and innovation. There was agreement that a unilateral approach is not viable.
A list of projects with Swiss participation can be found at the end of the text.
Background of the initiative
The “European Universities” initiative is a flagship initiative of the EU. It was launched in 2017 and is funded by Erasmus+. At EU level, 65 applications were submitted in 2023, 30 of which are funded.
The aim of the initiative is to increase the global competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and strengthen its links with the European Research Area (ERA). The Erasmus+ co-funded alliances serve as test-beds for the EHEA reforms and for accelerating the development of the Bologna Process, for example by increasing the number of joint educational opportunities and student mobility.
Swiss engagement on equal footing desired
Only since 2022, the initiative has been open to higher education institutions from all EHEA member countries, including Switzerland. The condition, however, is that interested Swiss higher education institutions must finance their participation themselves. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI, via Movetia, provided financial support for this participation last year. This investment is intended to strengthen the structural cooperation of Swiss higher education institutions with European partner institutions and to contribute to the further development of the EHEA and the ERA.
However, participation in the “European Universities” is funded in 2023 under the regular Swiss budget for the promotion of Education, Research and Innovation (ERI budget). The amount of funding for Swiss higher education institutions that have submitted an application to Movetia is open at the moment, and the effects on the other Movetia funding lines are also still unclear. Movetia and the SERI continue to work to ensure that Swiss involvement in the “European universities" is possible on an equal footing.
Last call for “European Universities” 2024 projects
At the European level, the last “European Universities” call for the time being is expected next year. In the 2024 call, the European Commission will mainly support new alliances to achieve the set target of having 60 “European Universities” by mid-2024.
Swiss participation shall also be supported again. Interested higher education institutions can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
New opportunities for Swiss universities of teacher education?
For Swiss universities of teacher education, involvement in “European Universities” is significantly more challenging than for universities and universities of applied sciences. Universities of teacher education as an independent entity exist in only a few European countries, as is the case in Switzerland, and comparable institutions are often integrated into a “European University” through the higher-level unit, e.g. university as a whole.
However, Erasmus+ offers a separate excellence funding instrument for institutions that train teachers, called Erasmus+ Teacher Academies. Until now, Switzerland was not eligible to participate in this Erasmus+ funding line. Whether this will change will become clear in the coming months.
Erasmus+ “European Universities” with Swiss partner (2023 call for projects)
“European Universities” are active with different focal points. The projects with Swiss participation reflect the range at European level. The following alliances with Swiss partner institutions have been selected for Erasmus+ funding (in alphabetical order):
EELISA – with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)
EELISA (European Engineering Learning Innovation and Science Alliance) is a transnational alliance of 10 higher education institutions, including the ZHAW. The alliance has its origins in the engineering sciences and its project (2023-2027) aims to bring together a new generation of creative Europeans. The aim is to enable them to work together across national and disciplinary boundaries to address the major societal challenges and skills shortages facing Europe.
Find out more: EELISA Project, EELISA alliance and media release ZHAW
ENHANCE+ – with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ)
The ENHANCE alliance, which includes nine other technical and scientific universities in addition to ETH Zurich, is intensifying its cooperation in teaching and innovation promotion with the ENHANCE+ project (2023-2027). By working together, it creates new teaching opportunities with attractive formats and content, facilitates mobility between institutions and promotes discourse with society on current and visionary topics. In this way, students develop a broad range of competences and are optimally prepared for the upcoming social and professional challenges.
ENLIGHT – with the University of Bern (UNIBE)
By joining ENLIGHT, the University of Bern has entered into an alliance of ten research-intensive generalist universities. As part of its project (2023-2027), ENLIGHT is developing innovative mobility offers for students and diverse exchange opportunities for staff. The aim of ENLIGHT is to create an open teaching and learning space where students and staff can engage in lifelong learning. Its thematic focus is on societal challenges in the following key topics: health, digitalisation, climate change, energy transition, social justice, culture and creativity.
Find out more: ENLIGHT Project, ENLIGHT alliance, UNIBE & ENLIGHT
EuroTeQ Engineering University 2030 – with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)
EuroTeQ 2030 (2023-2027) brings together seven leading universities of science & technology and two business schools to shape the engineering education of the future and, in particular, to increase the positive impact of their activities on society. In the project, the alliance will research, create, test and implement innovative engineering education based on educational mobility, relevance to society and adaptability to the changing needs of the future workforce.
UNITA - with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland (HES-SO)
The UNITA project (2023-2027) brings together 12 partner higher education institutions, including the HES-SO, as well as the independent legal entity UNITA. The project promotes transnational cooperation in the areas of communication, cooperation in mountain regions and the promotion of Romance languages. The UNITA alliance covers in particular the areas of education through innovative training models as well as research through the cooperation of research teams. Activities are carried out with the close involvement of staff from all universities, and the alliance also implements sustainable, transnational leadership and cooperation models.
Find out more: UNITA Project, UNITA alliance, HES-SO & UNITA
The four-year projects will kick off between October and December 2023.
The University of St. Gallen is involved in the current project (2023-2027) of the ENGAGE.EU alliance with guest status. Integration into the network, including participation in the Erasmus+ project, is to be concretised by the end of 2024.
AcrossEU (www.acrosseu.org/) with the University of Fribourg was not yet successful with their application for funding for their new Erasmus+ “European University”. Nevertheless, AcrossEU has demonstrated the positive impact that the strategic discussions and the preparation of the proposal have had on the participating institutions. The partner institutions have strategically expanded their cooperation. However, due to the lack of funds, the alliance currently has to prioritise activities and move forward more slowly than anticipated. A new funding application under the 2024 call is expected.