EUTOPIA at the Campus of European University Alliances in Versailles!
By Armando Uribe-Echeverria
Places to Meet
Leaving Brussels for Paris and Versailles on 29 June 2022 was not an easy choice for those of us who were to be present at the final act of the French Presidency of the European Council, the "Campus of European Universities" on 30 June at the Palais des Congrès de Versailles. The EUTOPIA Week BXL (27 June-1 July), brilliantly organized by the VUB, was roaring; EUTOPIAns from 10 countries everywhere, meetings, visits, and events filled with curious and happy people, glad to assemble and to see each other again. Wednesday, 29 June, arrived too quickly, and we arrived at Bruxelles Midi Station for different trains and separate wagons. We met some of those who travelled to Paris at Paris Gare du Nord. For those who had never done it before, the trip was an amazingly short one, a typical European experience of crossing frontiers, and changing countries and cultures in less than two-hours trip. From Paris, the journey began to Versailles along the Seine, another not-so-easy one in the tedious suburban train line C, while the evening was spreading out against the sky (TS Eliot).
Versailles is not Paris, the centre of the current French power, but an elegant suburb displaying all the signs of power in its architecture. Indeed three kings (Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI) established the Versailles Palace as their residence, and its surroundings, the absolute political, economic, and military power, effectively moving the court and nobility away from the ever-growing population of Paris, in the middle of the XVII century and until the French Revolution. Until today it stands as the symbol of French might rendered in stones and gardens. Versailles was the site for signing some crucial international treaties (1815 at the fall of Napoleon; 1919 at the end of WWI are the most significant ones). Presidents of the French Republic receive their counterparts in Versailles when they intend to display the highest possible solemnity. We went to Versailles, not to the palace but alongside it, to the Palais des Congrès (a sort of allegro ma non-troppo solution), for the meeting projected by President Macron to gather all the European Universities' alliances.
Since their creation, the 41 European alliances came together for the first time at the event, showing each other that they are not abstractions but human creations, with persons made of bone and flesh, uncovering smiles, intelligence, and imagination, willing to push as far as possible the experience of cooperation between likewise institutions all over the continent. The entire 41 alliances, comprising almost 300 universities were represented at a high level, each with a specific booth in what was called a “Village of European Universities”. The opening ceremony took place in a crowded Grand Auditorium. Why gather all these people? "To deepen the European sense of belonging based on common values" —answered the organisers—, "to strengthen the European dimension in higher education, research and innovation, and to drive Europe’s global role and leadership". Five thematic workshops were organized: Diverse Models, Common Challenges; Building Partnerships with Socio-Economic Stakeholders; Showcasing Europe’s Higher Education Worldwide; European Universities with Students’ Eyes, where Antony Jeyakumar (CY’s Student Representative, EUTOPIA Student Council) distinctively represented the alliance.
The French authorities (Ministers Sylvie Retailleau and Clément Beaune) and the European Commission authorities (Maryia Gabriel) were present and visited all the booths. EUTOPIA was happy to have the opportunity for a long conversation with the French Minister of Higher Education, Ms Retailleau, Former Rector of the University Paris-Sud, now known as Paris-Saclay.
This Campus of European Universities was the final French Presidency conference, gathering all European Universities. Initially announced by the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the event was co-organized by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research (MESRI) with the French Conference of University Rectors (France Universités), in partnership with the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Erasmus+ Agency, France Education & Formation as well as Campus France, the French Agency for the promotion of higher education.
The event intended to prepare for the next phase of the European Alliances Initiative, recalling that the first wave of universities awarded the opportunity. The second phase of funding by Erasmus+ for 2022-2026 is expected to be announced by the end of July 2022. Before the launch of this new phase, the French Government found it crucial to evaluate the overall progress and impact of the European Universities Initiative and the diversity of models of alliances of higher education institutions and thus gather them to get to know them in the flesh.
The Council conclusions on a European strategy empowering higher education institutions for the future of Europe, approved on 5 April 2022, identify four main objectives to foster the contribution of higher education institutions to the future of Europe: (1) strengthen the European dimension in higher education, research and innovation as well as the synergies between them; (2) drive Europe’s global role and leadership; (3) bolster Europe’s recovery and response to the digital and green transitions and (4) deepen the European sense of belonging based on core values. Together with the Council Recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation, they invite not only the Higher Education institutions but also the Member States and the European Commission to set up all necessary measures aiming at boosting and sustaining university alliances.
As Brussels was the place to meet between our 10 EUTOPIA partners for the 5th EUTOPIA Week, Versailles was undoubtedly for EUTOPIA the place to meet all those who are actively creating a new ecosystem, transforming our existing academic institutions into bigger, stronger, and better places.