Go back

EU should have university check for new laws, says EUA


European University Association urges bloc to think of education and research when developing new legislation

The EU should introduce a “university check” when developing law to ensure universities are not harmed by new legislation, according to a university group.

At the start of the lawmaking process, the bloc’s politicians should assess the impact of legislation on higher education institutions, the European University Association said in a 9 January policy paper.

The EUA, which represents more than 800 universities across Europe, said the check would ensure new legislation in all areas—including trade, migration and strategic autonomy—“will not hinder education and research and innovation activities”.

Similar checks are already in place for other beneficiaries. They include the precautionary principle, which can be invoked to stop a policy being carried out if it may cause harm to the public or the environment, and the innovation principle, which asks the bloc to consider the impact on innovation when developing new initiatives.

Reminder for politicians

Thomas Jørgensen, director for policy coordination and foresight at the EUA and co-author of the report, told Research Professional News that the call for the university check was “a message first and foremost to the European Commission to say when you think about regulation, think about universities.

“Secondly, it is a message to the European Parliament to say when you negotiate regulation, listen to what universities have to say. Will this work for them or will it have consequences?”

Jørgensen pointed to the Digital Services Act—which regulates online platforms—as an example of EU legislation for which he thinks universities were not sufficiently considered in the development stage.

He explained that the EUA became worried that open-access scholarly publishing could suffer because of the 2022 law, as it included rules on how to manage open-access repositories. 

While the impact of the Digital Services Act on open access may not be a “disaster”, Jørgensen said it is an example of when universities’ “eyes were opened” to laws being developed without them in mind.

“It came as a bit of a surprise,” he added. “It was just not thought-through what this would mean for universities and institutions. There was a lot of thinking about what researchers should have access to but not universities and how this legislation applies to them.”

Other calls

The university check call is just one of several recommendations in the document, which calls on the EU’s institutions to adopt a “new social contract” for universities during the Commission’s next term from 2024-29.

“The general tenor [of the new social contract document] is for the Commission’s new round of policy initiatives to really recognise universities as institutions and as an important sector,” Jørgensen said.

The document says that for the EU to meet the challenges of economic, social and environmental sustainability as well as build a “resilient and future-proof Europe”, it needs “open and transformative universities that collaborate across borders”.

It calls for the EU’s next seven-year funding cycle to give research, higher education and innovation programmes “ambitious” budgets, adding that the bloc should make sure member states reach the EU’s long-standing and long-missed target to spend 3 per cent of its GDP on R&I, as well as 2 per cent on higher education.

The EUA also recommends improved links between national, regional and European policies.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe