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Project 5-100 in European University Association report

February 10, 2015

The European University Association (EUA) published a new report that examines “excellence schemes" – that is, public funding schemes which have as their main objective the fostering of excellence in the university sector, and their subsequent impact on universities in Europe. Entitled ‘Funding for excellence’, it is the first in a series of three thematic reports that will outline many of the key findings of the EUA-led DEFINE (Designing strategies for efficient funding of higher education in Europe) project which analyses the effect of funding efficiency measures on European universities across the board. The new report takes into account such excellence schemes as have been introduced in different countries throughout the continent but, places its strictest emphasis on examining 10 particular schemes, including Project 5-100 and various other excellence initiatives already realized in Finland, France, Germany, Spain and other countries.

The European University Association works with approximately 850 universities from 46 countries. The organization was formed in 2001 as a result of a merger between the Association of European Universities and the Confederation of European Union Rectors’ Conferences. The main goals of the EUA have focused on influencing the decision-making process at all levels; for example, EUA represents the interests of these universities and lobbies in the development and revision of European policies, programs and funding instruments. A further consideration applies to the enhancement of institutional developments by sharing expertise: for instance, EUA organizes a wide range of mutual learning activities – including projects and events. These are designed for universities to share best practice, knowledge/insights and seek advice on those key issues which they have identified, such as funding and financial management, governance, quality assurance and management, lifelong learning and collaborative research. A third priority is for the EUA to continue acting as the voice of universities globally – promoting global partnerships via dialogue and projects, and ensuring the visibility of Europe’s universities worldwide in global events, networks, and organizations.

EUA experts have analyzed data accumulated since mid 2000s until 2014. Academic excellence schemes, according to the authors of the report, concern mostly research activities. However, several national programs have been and continue to be aimed at improving the quality of teaching: for example, IDEFI (France) whose mission is the realization of innovative teaching approaches, and the Quality Pact for Teaching (Germany) whose goal is to improve working conditions and to augment the content of teaching prerogatives for university professors, instructors, and tutors, etc.

Analysts note the variety of mechanisms used to select universities which will enjoy special conditions. These mechanisms are different from the ordinary competitive procedures used to distribute funding among universities because they are characterized as “exceptional” and are considered to be separate measures which lie beyond the frameworks of existing funding schemes. Subsidies received by universities on the basis of ordinary contests are often used to support scientists, research teams or collaborations while “excellence initiatives” are connected to the institutional level. According to the report, such special programs suggest an improved level of effectiveness of corresponding financial investments.

The report also looks closely at the economic component of the ambitious projects in higher education. In this regard, the authors of the report review other challenges related to the realization of “excellence initiatives” in various European countries, such as the selection of priority subjects and the creation of “excellence clusters”. The experts also elaborate on such topics as university leadership and the effect of various excellence initiatives on different aspects of university life.

In conclusion, the authors of the report make a series of recommendations concerning effective financing and evaluation of university development, “excellence initiative” management and render advice to universities who are planning to participate in such programs.