UPF-BSM Director General Martinez-Sierra leads panel on European University Alliances: "When done right, University Alliances can be game-changers"

European Alliances

The Director General of the UPF Barcelona School of Management (UPF-BSM), Jose M. Martinez-Sierra, chaired the session "Are alliances a friend or enemy of the fight against existing hierarchies within higher education?", held this Tuesday within the framework of the European Universities Summit, organised by the Times Higher Education (THE) and the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF).

Joining Prof. Martinez-Sierra on the panel were Peter Duisenberg, President of Universiteiten van Nederlan; Carina Mallard, Vice-Rector for Research at the University of Gothenburg; Sarah Springman; Principal of St. Hilda's College, University of Oxford; and Ksenija Vidma Horvat, Vice-Rector for Study and Student Affairs of the University of Ljubljana. The Director General of the UPF-BSM outlined the three main ideas that guided the panel discussion; the fact that only 5% of European universities are part of an EU-backed alliance; how the centres that belong to this 5% function; and the role of academic rankings in the shaping of alliances.

Although only 95% of European universities belong to an EU-backed alliance, the speakers agreed that alliances are key to global competitiveness 

"95% of European institutions are not part of an EU-backed alliance", said Martinez-Sierra, who asked the speakers how alliances should build their legitimacy. "Alliances can change the landscape of European higher education", said the President of the Universiteiten van Nederland, who argued that the remaining 5% of universities "are serving as a driving force for change". In his words, "alliances are key to global competitiveness". 

Multilateral alliances

The panellists considered what university alliances have meant throughout the years. All agreed that they are and can continue to be a factor of change in promoting cooperation in the field of European education, just as the Bologna reform enabled important changes. "For alliances to be successful, they must be multilateral", said Ksenija Vidmar Horvat, Vice-Rector of the University of Ljubljana. "The more diverse a space like this is, the more we learn from each other. There is a lot of room to explore", she added. 

In this sense, the university representatives shared the idea that alliances are not driven by rankings, but shared values, projects and successful experiences. "While we are committed to the strategies we already know, we can make the reality of the market allow us to increase diversity", said Prof. Springman, the Principal of St. Hilda's College, who gave as an example what they do in EUTOPIA –a network Pompeu Fabra University belongs to. "Our members can create research networks with internal people, but they can also add external participants", said Springman. 

"For alliances to be successful, they must be multilateral: the more diverse a space like this is, the more we learn from each other"

One of the aspects that has generated most debate has been academic rankings. "Have they been a key element, or have they been a barrier in the achievement of European alliances?", Martinez-Sierra asked. "There is nothing against measuring things, against rankings", explained Prof. Duisenberg, although he added that it is important to "measure things correctly". 

Alliances as a hallmark

Prof. Mallard, from the University of Gothenburg, said that alliances "are helping to deconstruct the ranking system, but also to reorganise higher education by generating hybrid institutional identities". "EUTOPIA, for instance, is a valuable identity maker", she explained. 

"Alliances are helping to deconstruct the ranking system, but also to reorganise higher education by generating hybrid institutional identities"

In this regard, the speakers agreed that rankings should be adapted to what universities want to do and how they want to do it. "We don't want to give up the notion of excellence, we want to give up the idea of measurement, because it often does not respond to our values as a higher education institution", said Prof. Mallard. 

World Higher Education Week

"Initiatives such as this Times Higher Education summit are crucial to understand the different personalities and needs of European universities, as well as to raise global awareness of the fundamental role we play in promoting and developing planetary well-being", said the Rector of the UPF, Oriol Amat. "These two days have been a great opportunity to think about the short, medium and long-term future of the European higher education", he remarked. 

The summit, organised with the support of UPF-BSM, is linked to the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education 2022, which is held once every ten years and which, for the first time, will be held in Barcelona. As part of this conference, on 19 May, UPF-BSM will host the debate "Democracy, justice and equality: a dialogue between Spain and Latin America", with the participation of the Spanish Minister of Universities, Joan Subirats, and the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, among others.