14 Feb 2019   |   Network News

KU Leuven strengthens strategic partnership with University of Edinburgh


The launch of university alliance UNA Europa creates new opportunities for KU Leuven to reinforce its bilateral partnership with the University of Edinburgh. This partnership predates the launch of UNA Europa and will now benefit from the alliance’s commitment to developing European universities of the future. 

In 2018, KU Leuven formed an alliance with Complutense University of Madrid, Freie Universität Berlin, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and the University of Bologna. This was the start of what is now UNA Europa. 

The alliance was officially launched in Kraków on 1 February 2019, with the University of Edinburgh joining UNA Europa as its seventh founding member. Edinburgh’s membership of UNA Europa is strategically interesting for KU Leuven, as both universities are already working towards an ambitious strategic partnership in terms of education and research.  

UNA Europa: towards a European university

In September 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron shared his vision for a European university with the world. The concept was initially vague, but the support of the European Commission’s DG for Education and Culture got the ball rolling. This process inspired the formation of UNA Europa. 

KU Leuven is already a founding member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). The university also belongs to the Coimbra Group – a network with a tradition of innovation – and to CESAER, which brings together European science and technology universities. So why do we need UNA Europa?   

"European networks such as LERU and Coimbra used to be excellent lobbying partners and have now become so much more," Vice Rector Peter Lievens explains. “LERU, in particular, is also a great platform for research partnerships. However, KU Leuven also needs alliances with very concrete benefits for our students and young researchers. For instance, European universities still need to implement the remaining objectives of the Bologna Declaration of 1999 (which introduced the bachelor-master structure in European higher education to ensure comparability – ed.). These objectives include credit mobility between European universities and other ways to boost student and staff exchange in Europe. That’s where UNA Europa comes in."

European universities need to work on credit mobility and other ways to boost student and staff exchange in Europe. That’s where UNA Europa comes in.

“Reducing red tape is one possible way to facilitate student mobility,” says Rector Sels. “Existing forms of mobility and collaboration aren’t very streamlined yet, generating a lot of overlapping work, often with temporary funding, and often relatively unknown. The result is a relatively expensive and underused system for student exchange. UNA Europa can help to improve this situation. The intense collaboration between the partners will help us to reach our common goals.”

Rector Luc Sels: “Our ideal scenario is a ‘multi-campus’ university model, whereby European universities work together to offer multidisciplinary programmes for all levels of higher education and taught at various locations. This model will create a wide range of opportunities for student and staff exchange. We believe that it will benefit the quality and international appeal of European higher education.”

Partnering up with Edinburgh

Vice Rector Lievens: “Like KU Leuven, the University of Edinburgh is now a member of LERU, Coimbra, and UNA Europa. This demonstrates that our universities have similar interests: we share a dedication to education, research, and services to society. It also means that strengthening the ties between the two universities benefits both parties. Now that Edinburgh has joined UNA Europa as well, it will be much easier to streamline our efforts.”

Strengthening our partnership with Edinburgh will help to soften the Brexit blow.

That still leaves the elephant in the room: Brexit. “The impact of Brexit on our collaboration with Edinburgh is impossible to predict at this stage,” says Rector Luc Sels. “But that is why we are strengthening our bilateral partnership in the first place: to soften the Brexit blow. KU Leuven and Edinburgh have already defined several areas of expertise in which both universities excel and which thus hold particular promise for joint research initiatives. So, whatever the outcome of Brexit, both universities continue to see the benefits of international mobility and collaboration across borders, and we are determined to maintain the strong ties between Edinburgh and the continent.”

This release was first published 14 February 2019 by KU Leuven.

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