"Six research-intensive European comprehensive universities - one vision": this was the motto of the annual meeting of the 4EU+ European University Alliance held at Heidelberg University on 4 and 5 November 2021. With the goal of mapping out further development for the transnational university alliance, approx.180 representatives came from the member universities of Prague, Heidelberg, Sorbonne (Paris), Warsaw, Copenhagen and Milan. The joint vision of the six universities is to bring about a research-led comprehensive university at six locations in Europe, which will connect students, teachers and researchers as a European comprehensive research university.
"The member universities have been preparing and shaping the history and future of Europe for almost a thousand years," said Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University and host of the conference. 4EU+ was now continuing this mission as a transnational undertaking, he added, as the "European answer to global challenges" and as a model for an "integrated European research and education area". The 4EU+ University Alliance brought together some of the oldest and most research-intensive universities of Europe, the Rector continued. There have already been over 200 Erasmus+ projects at the six universities with their approx. 286,000 students. Third-party funds totalling 368 million euros have been granted in the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union, and 115 research projects have been financed by the European Research Council (ERC).
"4EU+ has the potential to be one of the scientific hubs in Europe," underlined Isabelle Kratz, Secretary General of the alliance. She pointed out, however, that even after three years of successful work there was still a lot to be done. For the alliance to be led successfully into a European future, the goal had now to be to firmly root the common vision of 4EU+ as a comprehensive research university at the European level in the daily life of the member universities, she said. To this end, at their meeting in Heidelberg the universities came up with specific plans to step up their exchanges and transnational cooperation in research and research-based teaching at all levels and in all areas. For example, they are seeking to elaborate instruments and measures to establish the alliance, spark new initiatives and involve more sectors of the member universities in the activities of the alliance.
The importance attributed to the "highly political undertaking" of the European University was shown in the presence of high-ranking representatives from the world of politics, remarked Prof. Eitel at the opening of the general assembly, which took place on the afternoon of 4 November in the Great Hall of the New University in the Heidelberg Old City. They included the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the Federal Republic of Germany, the Consul General of the French Republic and the Consul General of the Italian Republic. Also present were representatives of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, and of the state parliament, and the Lord Mayor of the City of Heidelberg.
Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission, and Theresia Bauer, Minister of Science, Research and the Arts of the state of Baden-Württemberg, addressed the members of the 4EU+ alliance with a video message. Themis Christophidou remarked that the resoluteness with which the alliance was pursuing its vision of an "integrated European university system" was shown not only in the new legal form of the registered association with which it had endowed itself, but also in the substantive orientation of its Flagship projects. She thanked the members for their contributions to the consultation process on the future development of European Universities. Theresia Bauer also highlighted the pioneering work that the alliance had done in implementing the Erasmus+ call. "From idea to reality in only a few years," the minister said, "you are setting the standard for European innovation."
In his keynote address, Joybrato Mukherjee, President of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), called the annual meeting of the alliance a symbol of success for the international cooperation and for the European integration that the 4EU+ universities had already achieved. It was his hope for the future of all university alliances being funded by the Erasmus+ call "European Universities" that strategic partnerships would grow into institutional friendships, which would exist independently of funding or calls, and would connect universities in the whole of Europe conceptually, intellectually and emotionally. "4EU+ could certainly be in the vanguard of reaching out to this particular vision," said Prof. Mukherjee.
A number of academic awards were made in the context of the General Assembly. Jean Chambaz took centre stage in this respect, having been President of Sorbonne University until August this year. In recognition of his longstanding services to cooperation between Heidelberg University and Sorbonne University, as well as for his outstanding endeavours in the founding phase of the alliance, Prof. Eitel awarded him the Large University Medal of Ruperto Carola. "Your merits shape the European research landscape enduringly," the Rector noted. "The success of 4EU+ is unthinkable without your leadership."
Prof. Eitel likewise thanked Tomá¨ Zima, retiring Rector of the Charles University in Prague, for his commitment to the 4EU+ university alliance, which he had chaired. The Rector presented Prof. Zima with a facsimile of the Heidelberg "Book of Destiny" from the late 15th century and extended his best wishes for the future to his immediate predecessor in office as chair of the alliance for a year. The medieval codex, which is kept in the Heidelberg University Library, helped to define the movements of celestial bodies and, so it was thought, to foresee the future.
Prof. Eitel was honoured in his own turn for his special services to enhancing relations between the universities in Prague and Heidelberg. During the meeting, Prof. Zima awarded him the university gold medal of the Charles University in Prague. This award honours notable figures who have made a particularly outstanding contribution to developing the university or to science, learning and academic freedom.