APRIL 7, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has an unprecedented impact on all aspects of society, including higher education. The Eutopia Alliance universities sympathize with the afflicted, regret the loss of family members, friends and colleagues many now experience, and we hope to contribute our combined knowledge and expertise for the good of society. For us, as well for our colleagues from other pilot alliances, this pandemic poses a severe challenge to our work of creating a European University and causes necessarily the need for an amendment in our project timeline and financial aspects. At this moment, though, our primary concern must focus on the health and safety of the staff and students. All six universities are taking due measures to protect our communities, and we are confident in our ability to ensure by other means the teaching, the pursuit of research, and the administrative stability for our 165,000 students and 30,000 academics and administrators.

The Eutopia Alliance hopes to, despite the gravity of the current circumstances, not lose momentum in our shared goal to create a European University. We believe that this crisis demonstrates that only concerted European action will be effective and that European solidarity, in this case, is also much needed.

But there is more. The COVID-19 pandemic urges us to re-think the functioning of our universities. The dramatic measures taken to contain the contagion have resulted in extensive use of digital tools for education, as well as for organizing meetings at a distance. One can already see that staff and students have embraced the digital turn in higher education. This will affect the implementation of the Eutopia project, and the Presidents and rectors of the six partners will, in agreement with the Commission, address this issue when thinking about the future of our alliance. At present, we are largely going digital, and where that is not possible, alternatives will be developed. We are currently practising virtual communication across borders, which will form part of EUTOPIA’s international and innovative identity. But much more is needed, and we will have to find new ways of working and learning remotely from separate locations while remaining together as one network. It certainly pushes us to re-invent new working methods.

The COVID-19 pandemic further illustrates two other aspects that will affect the future of European Universities. First, that the world is incredibly connected and young people, whatever the subject of their study, should be educated with that principle in mind and be prepared to study, work and live in open and networked societies. Second, the current crisis also demonstrates the importance of collaborative research in order to deliver evidence that can be used by policy-makers and practitioners, and that can guide citizens. We need more trust in science and accurate mechanisms to facilitate the dialogue between the scientific communities and the policy-makers. This should be reflected in the research agenda and the curricula of our universities.

While working hard on the well-being and safety of everyone, we want to stress that there is no other choice than to adapt to what looks like a new organizational reality and to re-invent our universities. The big challenge is how to overcome the disruptive effects of pandemics without cutting back on the networking and mobility necessary for education and research in the European Universities of the future. The answer will be digital and European. We are ready to take up the challenge.

Caroline Pauwels  Rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel

François Germinet  President of CY Cergy Paris Université

Eva Wiberg  Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg

Igor Papič  Rector of the University of Ljubljana

Jaume Casals  Rector of the Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona

Stuart Croft  Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Warwick