Answer to the Communication of the Commission (COM (2003) 58 final)
The Commission is to be congratulated for initiating this long overdue debate on a key question for the future of our society.
Before commenting on the specific questions raised in the text, three important points should be addressed which concern the Communication as a whole.
- The role of Universities
- The University as a part of a larger educational process
- The scope for legislative and regulatory intervention
1. The role of Universities
Reading the Communication as drafted, one is left with the unmistakable feeling that the key and nearly exclusive purpose of Universities is to contribute to the economic and social development of our society. The vocabulary employed throughout the document and the context of nearly all arguments presented is predominantly drawn from the sphere of economics and to a lesser extent from social affairs.
While accepting, of course, that the objectives of contributing to competitiveness, innovation, research as well as employability, social cohesion, community and regional development are key roles for universities, it is unfortunate to obliterate their important function in other areas of knowledge that do not necessarily lend themselves to this type of analysis.
Universities (which do not necessarily include all institutions of higher learning considered in the Communication) are also called to develop poles of excellence in the cultural sphere. Public opinion should not be lead to believe that these are lesser areas of endeavour even if they may require a different approach from those making contributions of immediate and direct relevance to economic and social sphere.
It may therefore be appropriate to distinguish upfront in the discussion document between institutions (universities and specialised bodies) delivering outputs in areas of economic and social benefit (scientific, engineering, law, medical, economics, business and administration, etc. degrees and their related research activities ) from those which deliver diplomas in subjects such as philosophy, history, archaeology, anthropology, literature, etc.
Within the first group, there may be considerable scope in fostering and encouraging a “public private partnerships” approach, whereas for the latter, a much greater degree of “public” funding may be appropriate.
Indeed, if the pursuit of excellence is considered a sine qua non precondition to attract the necessary human and financial resources to universities to achieve the Lisbon objectives, then the required management skills (resource management, transparency) may no longer allow cross-subsidisation to the same extent as heretofore between different disciplines (see also response to point 5.5.2 hereunder).
2. The University as part of a larger educational process.
The approach followed by the Commission Communication, is largely based on the premise of the unavoidable pressure for both an ever growing demand by society for unrestricted access to higher education and, an equally insatiable demand by employers for graduates of institutions delivering the required knowledge.
Broad access to higher education has been identified as the mark of “social progress” at the expense, nevertheless, of a long term trend showing a continuous decrease in the available financial resources per student. This trend is identified as a key competitive handicap when compared to the situation in the USA.
It may be appropriate to question the explicit and implicit premises contained in the Communication, in particular as far as the respective roles of secondary (high school) and higher education relative one to another as well as the integration of the “lifelong continuous learning” process within the educational system.
One avenue that deserves to be explored in improving the resource base of higher education institutions is to restore to secondary schools their role of producing a much greater number of individuals that can enter productive employment without the immediate need for further education.
Until not so long ago, few people employed, for instance, in banking or commerce, even those destined to reach senior positions, required more than a high school diploma. Most additional training was acquired “on the job”. Looking at the statistics in the Communication (p.5), this is clearly underlined by the fact that only 12.5% of the 55-59 age group have higher education qualification as opposed to 20% for the 35-39 age group.
The increased demand for university graduates stems, at least in part, from the deterioration of the quality of secondary school education. Its causes are multiple but include:
- Political pressure to facilitate scholastic progression as a “human right”, leading to deterioration in standards.
- The vicious circle engendered by the loss of status of the primary and high school teaching profession, its “politisation” and its increasing militancy hurting its reputation.
- The transformation of society where increased participation by women in economic activity has transferred to the school tasks and responsibilities for which they are neither trained, equipped and for which they receive no identifiable additional resources.
Rethinking the approach to secondary education is therefore very much part of discussion of the role of Universities (though it has of course far wider implications) through reapportioning tasks more adequately.
In the ICT area for instance, it is recognised that high school students (not to speak of younger ones) are perfectly adapted to learning and developing appropriate skills. Developing such curricula at high school level in addition to more traditional learning would lead to making many students immediately employable upon graduation, more motivated in their studies with possible important social repercussions such as reducing juvenile delinquency and chronic juvenile unemployment as well as revaluing the perception of the high school teacher’s role.
Another consequence would be to allow more rigorous selection at the higher education level reducing the cost of the high failure rate experienced in the initial years of university (See comments on section 5.1.2 hereunder).
Similarly, the propensity to burden institutions of higher learning with the brunt of the lifelong “continuous learning process” resulting in part from the age and maturity of this particular student population should also be addressed. Clearly universities should be required to participate in this important trend only to the extent that the teaching/training they dispense required the competences attached to institutes of higher education.
Improving the quality on secondary education and limiting the scope of university involvement in the continuous learning process can be identified as important contributors to a better use of resources allocated to higher education. They should be considered within the framework of this Consultation even if these themes deserve separate appraisals as far as their implementation is concerned.
3. Scope for Legislative and Regulatory action
When considering matters subject of consultation by the European Commission it is always useful to circumscribe from the start the areas lending themselves to legislative and regulatory action as this is the major field of action of the Community rather than direct budgetary support. Higher education would seem an area that should primarily rely on the encouragement of best practice rather than be subject to mandatory frameworks.
To the extent that one identifies measures at Community or National level, such as tax relief, the promotion of mobility, employment measures or other areas already subject to legal and regulatory requirements that can help achieve the stated objectives, recourse to the appropriate legislative/regulatory processes can prove useful.
However, in view of the very nature of higher education, there is little scope for justifying “protective” measures in a field that is managed by highly educated individuals for the benefit of equally qualified students. In particular there should be no impediments to “competition” between institutions of higher education if the aim of excellence is to be achieved. Allocation of targeted support (in areas such as research funding) should be subject to qualitative rather than quantitative measurements.
This approach seems warranted by the comparison with the USA where, (like in Europe), there exist approximately 4000 higher education establishments “but of these some 50 account for the lion’s share of American academic research capacity, public funding in support of university research and the country’s Nobel prizes for science” (footnote p.5 of the Communication).
Universities should, however, be subject to laws/rules relating to areas such as:
- Employment and social security legislation.
- Accountability concerning the use of “public funding”.
- Protection of degrees/diplomas.
- Patent and copy write protection.
There may be some value in considering legislation/ regulation that harmonises some of these aspects in order to foster mobility, mutual recognition or other desirable objectives without promoting measures that would impair a competitive drive for excellence between institutions.
B. Specific commentary on questions raised in the Communication.
1. Chapter 3. The European University today.
a) § 3.3 The new challenges facing European universities.
The question of “increased demand” for higher education has been partially addressed in point 2 of the introduction. It is important not to overburden higher education with responsibilities that should be taken care of elsewhere.
With regard to the internationalisation of education and research, the trend towards a “competitive” allocation of funds seems compatible with the aim of fostering “excellence” (See remarks in point 3 of the introduction).
Concerning the greater appeal of US universities as compared to Europe, in addition to factors mentioned, another reason may be the difficulties occasioned by the use of languages other than English in many establishments which may discourage applicants.
The question of the role and contribution of universities to the process of innovation and their links with industry would prima facie seem like an opportunity rather than a problem if handled properly.
With regard to the reorganisation of knowledge, the question of adapting to the interdisciplinary character of many new fields of endeavour linked to the work of universities poses a very important problem. “Structural reform”, to which academia is notoriously reticent, creates a barrier as tradition is also considered an important ingredient of a university’s culture. This is however nearly exclusively an internal problem where outside interference has little to offer. It should however be considered in tandem with the structural changes needed in the management of universities. It should address questions such as the role of Trustees, human and financial resource management, university career development paths etc.
Concerning the “emergence of new expectations”, the question of lifelong teaching strategies has partially been addressed heretofore. With regard to those specific areas where higher education is required to provide these services, it would appear that this field would lend itself particularly well to “public/private partnership” approaches as, more often than not, the need for such services relate to the capacity of employees to retain or improve their jobs and are of direct benefit to their employers.
Similarly, the identification of universities as more active partners in community life should lead to the willingness of the communities concerned to contribute to the financial resources of universities as a normal quid pro quo for the benefits provided rather than assuming that these activities should be entirely funded from traditional sources.
The trend towards incorporation of representatives from the non academic world within universities’ management and governance structures should be welcomed.
It is a sine qua non condition for establishing the partnerships with the private sector on the one hand and for accounting to the tax payer for the budgetary support received on the other. Clear governance rules should however always provide for protecting “academic freedom” of the Faculty. This is a separate question from the management of the institution. It is somewhat akin in journalism to the respective roles of the “Publisher” and the “Editor” and there should be mutual recognition of the difference in the tasks assigned to each constituency. This forms very much part of the “structural” changes needed for providing excellence in higher education.
2. Chapter 4. What is at stake for Europe
a) § 4.1 Universities and the European dimension
The factors underpinning the need to address number of questions at European level is convincingly put forward in the Communication.
While a joint and coordinated endeavour by the Members States and candidate countries is indispensable to eliminate barriers, an equal effort is needed by the universities themselves to take advantage of the increased flexibilities so provided. (A parallel can be made between the Financial Services Action Plan, where Member States are invited to remove existing barriers to create an integrated financial market but where operators will be in charge of creating the benefits accruing to market participants).
Particular attention should be given by universities to opportunities provided by enhanced communication facilities (eEurope) which should allow the creation of “virtual pools of excellence” through “networking”. This may be a practical approach for drawing and retaining top-level students as well as overcoming some of the structural rigidities that impede interdisciplinary cooperation.
Such an approach would also transform the fragmentation of institutions, the heterogeneity of cultures and the diversity of languages from factors of weakness into factors of additional attraction turning them into a competitive tool versus US universities.
b) §4.2 European action for the universities
The focus of EU programs on “networks of excellence” and “integrated projects” are already examples of where the approach suggested here above is being implemented. At present, however, it is limited to the field of research.
The ERASMUS, LEONARDO, ECTS as well as the eEurope 2005 Action Plan are also steps in the same direction but stop short of forms of structural integration.
The EU could therefore consider, within its limited budgetary resources, giving additional direct support towards reinforcing cooperation between universities in the development of inter-institutional curricula and diplomas (system of credits). The pooling of superior teaching capabilities (using, inter alia, resources provided by modern multi-media techniques) and the enhancement of interdisciplinary cooperation between institutions could materially accelerate the creation of poles of excellence as well as contribute to the development of areas of research out of reach of many isolated institutions.
By concentrating relatively scarce resources one can also avoid the costs of un-necessary duplication and attract the best teachers and researchers around which the most promising students will congregate.
Actual planning in these areas should be left with the universities themselves. The formula should, however, prove attractive in reducing differences among Member States and candidate countries by capitalising on the strong points of participating institutions and providing access to higher quality teaching in their respective areas of weakness.
Such a pan-European programme could easily accommodate the wide variety of standards and of funding prevailing throughout the Community and constitute a major step towards achieving the Lisbon objectives in general and that of a Europe of knowledge in particular.
3. Chapter 5. Making European Universities a World Reference
a) § 5.1. Ensuring sufficient and sustainable resources
5.1.1. Increasing and diversifying universities’ income
Questions for debate:
How can adequate public funding of universities be secured, given the budgetary constraints and the need to ensure democratic access?
Adequate public funding of universities is above all a question of “political will”.
It follows that it is of great importance to convince national public opinions that funding higher education is of central relevance to society as a whole and not an area benefiting the “privileged few”.
It is equally important that the funding be transparent so that the tax payer can identify how budgetary support is allocated.
Another preliminary remark concerns the distinction between “democratic access” to higher education and “unrestricted access”. Indeed, politicians have tended to consider access to higher education as a “right” but have notoriously shied away from assuming the responsibility of providing the commensurate financing. Furthermore they have not imposed on the beneficiaries (students) minimum “obligations” that are the democratic quid pro quo for the exercise of any “right”.
Public funding of universities should primarily be aimed at covering costs which are least likely to attract private support. These include:
- Administrative expenses: Salaries, maintenance, general infrastructure, etc.
This type of contribution can be considered on a student “per capita” basis taking into account both the type of studies involved (scientific studies need more expensive infrastructure) and the level (undergraduate expenses are spread out over a greater number of candidates than graduate/post graduate studies).
- Support for tuition in the form of grants or guarantees.
This is a very important aspect of meeting the democratic access criteria. Grants in form of scholarships can be attributed to qualifying students on the basis of dual means and academic tests. In addition guarantees for student loan programs funded by private sector institutions should be made available to the widest student population possible.
A student loan programme could be instituted at Community level supported by a budget guarantee. It could be implemented by the EIB as a special “window” within its existing global loan product.
Developing such a programme would have a considerable leveraging effect on public budgetary resources reducing cash outlays. It would also allow universities to increase the level of tuition fees increasing the direct (though differed) contribution of the beneficiaries and improve the public opinion’s perception of the desirability of higher education support.
Indeed, applicants would consider carefully whether they had sufficient motivation to incur debt when starting their university studies and those graduating would normally have little difficulty in facing loan amortisation payments as a quid pro quo for their enhanced earning power.
- Support for research programs.
Public funding should continue to be made available for support of specific research programs as is the case presently both at National and Community level. Programs should in part seek leverage from partners as is the case for existing Community supported projects or, where appropriate be entirely funded by the public purse (fundamental research not leading directly to commercial exploitation).
How can private donations be made more attractive, particularly from a tax and legal point of view?
Tax deductibility of donations to universities is, by definition, a matter for each Member State under the rules of subsidiarity. There should therefore be no attempt to harmonise ceilings or other national rules applicable to individual taxpayers in their respective countries of residence.
However, it may be useful to suggest some common rules/criteria that would apply across the Community widening the range of choice of institutions able to benefit from contributions and broadening the tax attractiveness to individual donors.
Firstly, donations to any “recognised” institution of higher education wherever located in the Community should qualify as an “eligible” donation for tax purposes in the country of residence of the donor in accordance with its own national rules.
Secondly, in order to improve the attractiveness of donations, the EU could recommend as “best practice” that each Member State offer to its taxpayers a choice of tax treatment as follows:
- Either the taxpayer may deduct (subject to applicable national ceilings) the amount of his donation from the taxable revenue base in the year of the contribution.
- Either the taxpayer chooses to defer the deductibility of his contributions opting in its place for a tax deduction from the amount of “estate duties” payable by his heirs.
At present some form of deducibility from the annual taxable revenue base exists in most Member States. Adding the proposed alternative would of course be more attractive in terms of actual potential tax savings for the taxpayer.
To a certain extent, the long term advantage to the taxpayer would be compensated, from the point of view of tax collection, by increasing commensurately the immediate taxable revenue and therefore the income taxes received by the State during the life of the contributor.
The system should entice larger individual contributions (in excess of existing deductible ceilings). Adequate precautions should be taken for “vesting” to avoid abuses such as “last minute deathbed” donations. For instance donations benefiting from this option should have been at least 5 years old at the time of death or part of a regular annual defined “donation” pledge programme in existence for at least 7 years. Amounts not qualifying for the tax rebate would instead be deducted from the estate’s taxable base so nothing would be lost.
Universities could also “market” these advantages to their alumnae or other benefactors and contribute thereby to the building of “endowment” funds increasing in the long run their financial autonomy.
An additional “best practice” recommendation could encourage Member States to set up an “ex ante ruling procedure” to allow tax deductibility in specific cases where it was clear the aims were fully compatible with the objectives but the conditionality envisaged by the legislation could not necessarily be fully met.
How can universities be given the necessary flexibility to allow them to take greater advantage of the booming market in services?
With the development of poles of excellence, universities should be able to attract increased sponsorship from the private sector and also from local communities. In “commercial” projects, budgeting should include a profit margin either on a fixed basis (cost + margin), either on a variable basis (cost and profit sharing). For non commercial projects full cost recovery should be the aim.
Profits/revenues should be exempt from taxation to the extent they are fully reinvested in university activities. This may include paying higher salaries or special compensation to staff (in order to attract the best) who themselves remain fully subject to local tax legislation as individuals.
As a result of the growing focus on corporate governance and the need of corporations to appoint independent outside Directors to their boards, universities could endeavour to promote the election of qualified staff members to serve in this capacity. Director’s fees could accrue in part to the university (when the company is a university spin-off) or serve as an incentive to attract and retain high quality staff. Companies involved would also be prime targets as corporate sponsors/partners always within rules of transparency and adequate management of potential conflict of interest situations.
Universities might consider setting up special curricula in corporate governance for its senior staff to help acquire the basic knowledge necessary to carry out correctly duties associated with such directorships. In view of the heavy personal responsibility of Directors, adequate familiarity with corporate governance rules is indispensable in addition to whatever specific contribution a university staffer may bring from his professional experience.
5.1.2. Using available resources more effectively.
Questions for debate:
How can the maintenance of democratic access to higher education be combined with a reduction in failure and dropout rates among students?
This question has already been partially addressed in § 5.1.1 above. Democratic access should not stand in the way of rigorous selection on a qualitative basis. The discrimination to be avoided is one based on criteria such as race, gender, religion, age as well as financial resources. Legislation should remedy the former and incentives (grants/guarantees) can contribute to alleviate the latter.
Only stricter admission criteria will lead to a reduction in failure and drop out rates. This implies, as already stated, a parallel fundamental revaluation and restructuring of secondary school education.
The Community rather than the State should also become the recognised “domestic” geographic area for European citizens applying to institutes of higher education. A natural selection process (elitist) will lead to a hierarchy becoming recognised between competing institutions. The best will attract the best teachers, students and funding. This trend should not be resisted but on the contrary encouraged. The system should also discourage weaker students of applying to universities as by definition they will only get accepted in the lesser ones (unless daddy has just donated a library) making the endeavour less attractive. If the process succeeds, it will naturally lead to a higher per capita funding available which in turn should ensure an overall improvement in the quality of all higher education institutions.
How can a better match be achieved between supply of – and demand for- university qualifications on the labour market, through better guidance?
To the extent that the intention is to work towards a pan European approach to higher education, it follows that questions of matching demand and supply should also be envisaged under this angle.
On the demand side, pooling of information gathered by national government ministries and agencies, professional associations, chambers of commerce etc. should allow for an appropriate community body (existing or to be created) to produce a dynamic picture of the needs.
Universities should be encouraged to use this information in preparing multi-annual rolling operating plans. They should pool information concerning their existing “capacity” and their development plans in an effort to avoid unnecessary duplication. Universities should remain firmly in control of their individual planning processes.
Governments should nevertheless be consulted on planned orientations within the framework of medium/long term financing agreements between the parties.
With regard to student “guidance” in orienting choices, it might be useful to consider the establishment of a centralised service (web site) where all relevant information is available to applicants with links to the individual web sites maintained by each university.
The system could transmit formal applications and allow for preferences to be expressed in case of multiple applications. Actual acceptance of students would in all cases be the sole prerogative of each university in accordance with its own criteria.
The system should also be able to provide suggestions in case preferences remained unsatisfied in order to try to match offer and supply.
The EU might consider an appropriate subsidy towards financing the feasibility and implementation of such an “integrated project” in partnership with all institutions of higher education that would agree to participate, as part of the Sixth Community Framework Research Programme.
While such a system would definitely contribute to a better matching of offer and demand, it does not address the question of counselling students appropriately. A rudimentary system of orientation might be developed within the suggested information programme on the basis of a questionnaire to be filled in by the applicant.
More in depth student counselling aimed at better individual student orientation (in particular in cases where discouraging application to universities is required) needs access to specialised centres of which at least one should exist in each Member State.
States may wish to make such a service available to their nationals to foster democratic access, but there should be no obligation on students to avail themselves of this opportunity. However, referral to such a service might be compulsory in cases where the student was also applying for financial support in the form of scholarship/guarantees provided by the public purse.
Is there a case for levelling out the duration of courses for identical qualification?
This question should be linked to that of the protection of titles as clearly the concept of “identical qualification” cannot be measured in terms of time but should rather refer to the quality of the knowledge.
Minimum standards of knowledge (represented by a system of compulsory and optional “credits”) should be required to deliver given “titles”, especially those to which the public at large assigns a more universal meaning (doctor, lawyer, etc.). Within such a framework, universities should be left free to construct their individual curricula and let the market assign differing values to diplomas issued by competing institutions.
How can the transparency of research costs in universities be enhanced?
Transparency of costs is primarily related to the existence of adequate management tools. Therefore, each individual research project should be subject to a detailed programming procedure including the precise determination of specific direct fixed and variable expenditures, the share of common overhead costs being assigned to the project, etc. A clear listing of available financial and human resources should also be part of the information provided to ensure that each project is properly funded and staffed. Finally a monitoring system should be in place to identify early on any significant departure from the original outline and allow reassessment or remedial steps to be taken.
Such processes lend themselves to a certain amount of standardisation which reduces the administrative burden of management, imposes discipline, fosters accountability and enhances transparency.
5.1.3. Applying scientific research results more efficiently
Questions for debate:
How could it be made easier for universities and researchers to set up companies to apply results of their research and to reap the benefits?
It is probably not a good idea to facilitate universities as such setting up companies to apply results of their research as this would inevitably lead to a weakening of the prime purposes of universities which is to develop and propagate knowledge.
However, it is essential that universities (and researchers) be able to participate in the benefits created by companies set up for such purposes. Participating in the benefits can take multiple forms such as royalties, allocation of “founders shares”, warrants, participation in the creation of the company (if the university has an appropriate endowment fund) and terms should be negotiated on a professional basis valuing appropriately the contributions made by the parties involved.
Universities should also allow its researchers to become personally involved in such enterprises either (as capitalists and/or employees) and have sufficiently flexible “employment” rules to allow either part time working, sabbaticals or other suitable arrangements to encourage their staff in this direction.
Clearly, wealthier institutions can create special financial vehicles managed by professional “business oriented” staff to manage their involvement such companies. These vehicles will serve as an additional attraction for potential industrial and financial partners.
Each institution must devise its own package of incentives to motivate and retain its best people which, in the case of applying research results, can indeed include an opportunity for significant material rewards.
Because of the lack of managerial experience in the running of a “commercial” company, the significance of a researcher’s contribution to the success of a newly created company will normally be greatest in its initial “incubating stage”. Preparing adequately research staff to face this situation can both serve to avoid disappointments and ensure that they will normally return to full tenure within the university when persons with more appropriate business qualifications are needed. Of course appropriate financial arrangements should be in place to ensure that their initial pioneering work continues to be adequately rewarded if the company proves successful.
Universities should encourage a multidisciplinary approach to managing their involvement in the commercial exploitation of their scientific research: in addition to the researchers themselves, they should draw on the competences available within their business and administration, law, economics, etc. faculties especially when faculty members are also active participants in the business world. Involvement of the university Trustees can also be a useful source of additional advice available to the universities.
Adequate provision for sharing rewards among research team members can also contribute to fostering a spirit of productive innovation and attract promising assistants and students to the common effort.
Is there a way of encouraging the universities and researchers to identify, manage and make the best use of the commercial potential of their research?
In many if not most cases this question will not arise because much of the research work having a direct commercial potential is carried out on a “contract” basis for the benefit of an outside entity. In this context, the university should be able to decide whether to carry out the work as a “subcontractor” on a pure “cost plus” basis or whether it wishes to share otherwise in the risks and rewards that may accrue from its work. In all such cases universities and researchers will not be required either to identify or manage the use of the potential resulting from their research.
With regard to more fundamental research programs, in particular those that may be sponsored by public money or the universities’ own endowment funds, it would seem advisable either to create a specialised multidisciplinary unit charged with these tasks or to subcontract the market evaluation and eventual fund raising to professionals in these fields. Researchers should of course remain involved as they will be a key to the process of attracting investors. However, they are not generally competent to manage these processes themselves, nor are they considered by investors as competent outside their (indispensable) scientific contribution.
What are the obstacles which today limit the realisation of this potential, whether legislative in nature or as regards intellectual property rights? How can they be overcome, particularly in countries where university is funded almost exclusively from the public purse?
It would seem that most obstacles are of a structural rather than of a legislative nature.
Some of these structural barriers are internal to the universities themselves and have been referred to here above. They include rigidities in management structures impeded by “tradition”, difficulties in changing mentalities towards a more multi-disciplinary cooperative approach. These must be tackled internally.
A second barrier derives from the lack of financial autonomy of many universities and therefore their dependence to a greater or lesser extent from funding through the public purse.
A dual approach should be followed in this respect:
- Introduce measures that would encourage the establishment of “endowment funds” which would progressively lead to lesser reliance on government support. These include for instance advantageous fiscal treatment of donations as suggested in responses to questions in § 5.1.1. In addition, consideration could be given to favourable taxation of revenues generated by endowment funds as long as they were reinvested for eligible purposes (i.e. giving endowment funds themselves a tax exonerated status).
- Encourage the establishment of medium/long term planning contracts between universities and their respective government authorities. These contracts would inter alia define the criteria on which subsidies are to be based, their amount, the use of funds provided, the monitoring, reporting and evaluation mechanisms put in place to ensure execution of the plan. These contracts would also specify questions relating to the ownership of intellectual property rights deriving from government funded research. For instance they could be devolved to the university to the extent that they were exploited within an appropriate time horizon. The State could retain a contingent financial interest allowing for reimbursement of the original outlays if certain “success” parameters were met. Conversely, universities could retain a contingent interest if, after reversal to the State, rights were successfully developed by other entities.
Implementation will require legislative measures with regard to specific tax rules and may require also such measures in establishing an adequate framework for the planning mechanism as it should allow deviation from the “annuality” of budgetary processes in favour of a pluri-annual approach.
Major benefits derived from these measures would be the improvement in the programming capacity of universities, the corresponding improvement in management efficiency, greater transparency of operations and improved accountability to the taxpayer.
b) 5.2 Consolidating the excellence of European universities
5.2.1. Creating conditions for achieving excellence
Questions for debate:
How can the consensus be strengthened around the need to promote excellence in the universities in conditions which make it possible to combine autonomy and management efficiency?
It is important to define “autonomy” as it may apply to different aspects of a university’s activities.
First and foremost autonomy in the sense of “academic freedom” must be fully preserved. Its definition and defence should remain the prerogative of the institution itself.
With regard to autonomy of “management”, this should be subject to a different approach: there is an inescapable obligation of accountability to external entities (government or private) that provide significant resources to the institutions (see above). Furthermore, competent management (financial and administrative) will per force mean acquiring human resources from other sources than the in house academic reservoir and entrusting them with the necessary power and autonomy to fulfil their assigned tasks.
The interaction of academic and management personnel should be carefully designed and transparent (cfr. example relating to newspapers mentioned in last § of point 3.3 above).
To strengthen the consensus around the need to promote excellence, universities as a group should take the lead at European level. They should agree on a common list of measures susceptible to achieve these aims, several of which have been developed in this discussion. Each national sub-group should then be responsible for lobbying their national authorities accordingly.
This process would considerably reduce the risk of individual Member States, however well intentioned, implementing measures at national level which, though perfectly rational, could be nevertheless turn out to be incompatible with a pan European approach by increasing fragmentation and retarding the achievement of the Lisbon objectives.
Is there a way of encouraging universities to manage themselves as efficiently as possible while taking account simultaneously of their own requirements and legitimate expectations in their regard?
There is no contradiction between efficient management and taking into account the institutions’ requirements and society’s expectations. On the contrary efficient management would appear to be a sine qua non condition for increasing each institution’s ability to meet those requirements and expectations.
Encouragement to universities in this regard may be achieved by benchmarking performance criteria and linking, in an appropriate fashion, part of the funding to achieving agreed objectives.
What are the steps which would make it possible to encourage an interdisciplinary approach in university work, and who should take them?
Development of interdisciplinary cooperation will be imposed by the realities of the environment in which universities are called to operate. Therefore, governments, companies, foundations, the university boards of Trustees will all play an active part in defining the need for such cooperation within the framework of contract negotiations on specific projects they are prepared to fund.
Trustees should see that the university itself promotes internally acceptance of the concept by its staff.
5.2.2. Developing centres and networks of excellence
Questions for debate:
How can providers of university funds be encouraged to concentrate their efforts on excellence, particularly in the area of research, so as to attain a European critical mass which can remain competitive in the international league?
Funds originating from national governments will normally be spent on institutions within each Member State. However this should not prevent Member States to encourage the establishment of trans-national partnerships aiming at raising the level of domestic institutions to international standards of excellence as part of the programming process negotiated with the universities.
With regard to allocation of funds from private/corporate sources this should probably be best left to “market forces” as it is difficult to imagine compatibility between private support and a bureaucratic mechanism for allocating this type of funding. Indeed many factors will come into play such as personal loyalties (alumnae), areas of existing expertise (corporate sponsorship of research), reputation, quality of management etc.
Universities should clearly recognise the existence of these competitive factors and over time initiate policies that will attract the necessary funding for their development. As is the case in the USA, the aim of getting the best “value for money” will lead to the greater part of private funding, and to some extent public funding also, going to a relatively small number of institutions meeting the required standards of excellence (note on p. 5 already referred to).
In many cases, international cooperation will be the only avenue open to an institution for attracting at least a share of sponsorship funding.
How should this excellence be organised and disseminated, whilst managing the impact of the steps taken on all institutions and research teams?
It would seem that it is primarily the universities themselves that will have to organise these processes relying on their internal capabilities (staff/trustees) with the assistance of external expertise (consultants) where needed and available.
In addition an interuniversity body, pooling expertise, best practices as well as offering a contact point for developing partnerships should be set up to speed up the process.
How can the European Union contribute more and better to the development and maintenance of academic excellence in Europe?
A financial contribution towards funding the conception and creation of an interuniversity body acting as a facilitator, as mentioned here above will always be helpful to the extent eligible budgetary resources are available. There seems little need for the Commission to play an “initiating” or “operating” role in this context; however, it should be provided with the full details of its objectives, its operating plans, including its funding requirements.
5.2.3 Excellence in human resources
Questions for debate:
What steps could be taken to make scientific and technical studies and careers more attractive and to strengthen the presence of women in research?
Attractiveness of scientific and technical careers is a combination of opportunities for financial rewards and the possibility to exercise one’s job within an environment conducive to fulfilment of personal objectives.
With regard to the former, association of university research staff to commercial benefits deriving from their work is an avenue already mentioned previously (Point 5.1.1). Similarly promoting opportunities for specialists to be able to contribute their knowledge to corporations as “independent directors” or as “consultants” can also meet the objective of improving financial rewards. This implies of course the necessary flexibility in staff employment conditions to permit such activities. This is essentially a question that can be resolved through adequate private contractual arrangements.
Concerning the fulfilment of personal objectives, it is clear that enhancing mobility opportunities will be a key element. This entails also dealing specifically with questions such as continuity in arrangements concerning pensions, social security and other benefits. EU wide agreement on items such as “portability”, mutual recognition etc. is a prerequisite to facilitating mobility.
Development of trans-national cooperation, in particular partnerships not requiring delocalisation through greater use of communication facilities, should provide additional career opportunities to researchers who could participate in a greater number of projects. This may prove particularly efficient with regard to promoting interest of women in these types of career and may also facilitate some of the tax and social consequences linked to delocalisation.
In summary the creation of a true European research area, free of administrative barriers through mutual recognition will greatly contribute to facilitating the objectives of excellence and career fulfilment.
How – and by whom – should the lack of career development opportunities following doctoral studies be addressed in Europe, and how could the independence of researchers in carrying out their tasks be fostered? What efforts could universities make in this regard, taking particular account of the needs of Europe as a whole?
This is mainly a matter for the universities themselves to develop within the context of their programming cycle. Both public and private specific funding could be attracted to support these activities if appropriately justified.
In addition, it might be possible to create at European level with private funds a foundation that would support post doctoral studies/research on the basis of detailed proposals submitted by the candidates and selected by an independent board. The EU might contribute by co-financing selected projects within the scope of the Sixth Framework Research Programme.
Prestige of such a foundation might be complemented by the establishment of annual awards which might be directed at the universities (to differentiate from Nobel) and which would enhance their reputation and competitivity.
What ways are there of helping universities to gain access to a pool of resources (students, teachers and researchers) having a European dimension, by removing obstacles to mobility?
Access to human resources will be improved by implementing measures already suggested elsewhere in this note including:
- The creation of an inter-institutional body pooling information on offer and demand items (student applications, needs for specific project teams),
- The benefits to be derived of a more structured planning procedure,
- Legislative measures (both fiscal and administrative) to create a true pan-European space for higher education.
- Fostering acceptance within academic circles of the benefits of inter disciplinary cooperation.
c) 5.3. Broadening the perspective of European universities.
5.3.1. A broader international perspective
It would be useful to clarify whether in drawing comparisons with the USA, the Commission communication includes in the number of foreign students hosted by European universities, those coming also from other Member States. If so, then clearly one is not comparing like with like.
To the extent that there is a consensus at Community level on the benefits of a pan-European approach to higher education, care must be taken to avoid that measures implemented by individual Member States, lead to further fragmentation and additional implicit barriers by distorting competition. The Commission should ensure that, as it is already doing in the field of visas and residency, wherever possible, harmonised rules facilitating intra European mobility are the norm.
Questions for debate:
How can European universities be made more attractive to the best students and researchers from all around the world?
By implementing some of the measures already discussed in this note, in particular:
- by making sure that visa, residency and work permit regulations are uniform Europe wide
- by facilitating the use of a common (English) in addition to local languages
- by promoting inter university cooperation to build world class project teams.
In a context of increasing internationalisation of teaching and research, and of accreditation for professional purposes, how should the structures, study programmes and management methods of European universities be changed to help them recover their competitiveness?
In view of the great diversity of institutions concerned there are no particular recipes that would be applicable across the board. Clearly professionalizing management methods will be key. Setting priorities should remain the sole privilege of each institution which will need to take into account available resources and plan accordingly.
5.3.2. Local and regional development
Questions for debate:
In what areas and how could the universities contribute more to local and regional development?
Universities have an important role to play in this field. The quality of their teaching and research can indeed serve as a significant attraction for stimulating local economic, social and cultural activity.
However, local authorities as well as local enterprises and citizens must also be more willing to contribute financially to the resources of the universities from which they will benefit either collectively or individually.
There is no contradiction between developing on both an international and a local scale as these two aspects are mutually supportive one of the other.
A particularly promising field is the development of research/industrial parks in close cooperation between universities, local authorities and SMEs.
- SMEs can benefit from the proximity of universities for recruitment and easy access to university research.
- Local authorities can benefit from employment creation, an increase in the local tax base, and in general offer their constituency a more attractive community environment.
- Universities can find locally partners providing resources to fund research projects and opportunities for research staff to find locally additional challenges and rewards.
In addition, specific financing tools can be developed to foster this type of activity including “incubators”, “specialised venture capital funds” where additional resources provided by the three local partners can be co-mingled to create a sufficient critical mass to afford professional management. The Commission is already structured to add additional Community resources through its SME Multi annual Programme by direct budgetary support for incubators, VC funds and VC fund specialised personnel.
What ways are there of strengthening the development of centres of knowledge bringing together at regional level the various players in the production and transfer of knowledge.
In the search of efficient management, one should explore opportunities of closer cooperation between local/regional institutions of higher education that could lead to substantial cost savings. This could occur in the area of pooling some administrative tasks, the sharing of infrastructure and/or combining resources in some areas of teaching.
Such initiatives should always be a win/win situation for all the parties and not detract from the academic freedom, the autonomy, the culture and traditions of each individual participating institution. It should not either reduce the ability of each institution to develop its own broader international network.
How can greater account be taken of the regional dimension in European research and training projects ant programmes.
The responsibility for achieving such an objective should remain squarely with the regional actors themselves as national or pan-European measures seem inappropriate as being contradictory in terms. Universities will therefore have to convince their local partners of the mutual advantages (described here above) that may be garnered from closer cooperation.
Brussels, February 25th 2002