19.07.2019 | KPMG Law Insights

Announcement of the first “European universities

Announcement of the first “European universities

At the end of June, the EU Commission announced which universities will be part of the first alliances of “European universities” and can look forward to additional funding from the EU budget over the next three years. The winners prevailed in the initiative’s first pilot call with their concepts for a cross-border European university. The alliances aim to enhance the quality and attractiveness of European higher education and promote cooperation between institutions, students and staff. The initiative was launched by the EU Commission in the run-up to the Social Summit in Gothenburg in November 2017. It is part of the effort to build a European education area by 2025.

What are European Universities and what are the goals of the initiative?

The “European Universities” are transnational collaborations of several higher education institutions (at least three) from across the EU and other Erasmus member states that pursue a common long-term strategy. The strategy should focus on sustainability, excellence and the promotion of European values and identity. The aim of promoting these alliances is to foster the mobility of students and higher education staff as well as the inclusiveness and competitiveness of European higher education.

To achieve this goal, inter-university campuses will be formed between which students, graduate students, staff and researchers will be able to move seamlessly in the future. Common, flexible curricula and modules will be created, giving students the opportunity to obtain a European degree. Students should be able to organize their studies individually in terms of choice of study location/change of study location as well as choice of subject and time schedule. This should lead to the pooling of expertise, platforms and resources.

Which universities are participating?

From the 54 applications received, 17 European universities involving 114 higher education institutions from 24 Member States have been selected in the first pilot round. The selection of the “winners” was based on the recommendations of a group of experts consisting of professors, researchers and rectors. This group of experts had been appointed by the EU Commission to evaluate the applications. On average, seven facilities are involved per alliance.

The selection covers a broad spectrum of higher education institutions: Universities of applied sciences, technical universities, art colleges, comprehensive universities and research-intensive universities are involved. The degree of focus within the alliances varies. In some collaborations, all disciplines are covered by the associated institutions, while other collaborations focus on specific areas, such as sustainability in coastal cities.

Germany is the second most involved in the alliances, with 15 participating higher education institutions. Only France is represented more often, with 16 facilities.

The participating German institutions are: Freie Universität Berlin, Heidelberg University, Leipzig University, the private Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Tübingen University, Hamburg University of Technology, Potsdam University, Dresden University of Fine Arts, LMU Munich, Mainz University, Kiel University, Darmstadt University of Technology, Bremen University, Freiburg University, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Collaborations involving German universities of applied sciences were not successful in the applications.


A total of 85 million euros will be available for the first 17 “European universities” starting in the fall, with each alliance eligible for a maximum of 5 million euros in funding over the next three years. The total budget was subsequently increased from 60 to 85 million euros in order to be able to support 17 alliances instead of the 12 alliances initially planned. With an average of seven facilities per cooperation, each member can expect to receive funding of around 300,000 euros per year.

After the start of funding in the fall, a second pilot call for further “European universities” is also to follow, then with a total budget of 120 million euros.

The funds for the two pilot calls come from the Erasmus budget. For the next long-term EU budget for 2021-2027, the EU Commission then plans a full “roll-out” of the initiative with a then “significantly increased budget.” According to the German Rectors’ Conference, this increase is also urgently needed against the background of the great ambitions for the creation of European Alliances on the one hand and the very modest funds available to date on the other.

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