European degree must not sideline humanities, universities warn

European Commission’s plans for international qualification should not only prioritise in-demand technologies, says guild

May 22, 2024
Colossi of Memnon, Luxor, River Nile, Egypt. Two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh stand at the front of the ruined Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III
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A future European degree must not favour studies in “critical technology areas” at the expense of the humanities, sector leaders have warned.

In March, the European Commission unveiled a “blueprint” for the creation of an international European degree, proposing that the qualification take one of two forms: students completing joint degree programmes could receive an additional “European degree label certificate”, or multiple universities could jointly award a new qualification known as a European degree.

The degree should be “based on a set of common criteria agreed at European level”, the commission advised, listing among those criteria an emphasis on student mobility, relevance to the labour market and the promotion of “European values” including democracy, multilingualism and inclusivity.

In a response to the blueprint, the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities cautioned that the European degree should not become a funding mechanism for programmes in “critical technology areas”, but must also support study in social sciences and humanities, while participating universities must “retain institutional autonomy in the choice of disciplines and curricula design”.

“The European degree needs to put more emphasis on the interlinkage between new technologies and social sciences, arts and humanities,” the guild said.

Addressing the commission’s reference to “European values”, the umbrella body commented, “We should insist on the idea that values are global, as is the quest for new understanding and insight.” This perspective, the guild said, is “especially relevant when attracting global talent to Europe”.

The university group raised questions about the two proposed routes to a European degree, noting that it was “not obvious” how the qualification could exist as both an additional certificate and as a degree in its own right.

The guild also touched on the commission’s emphasis on student mobility, calling for increased funding for the Erasmus+ programme in order to realise this goal. “If this is to become reality, we must avoid a situation where universities compete for the already limited Erasmus+ budget,” the group said.

In a statement, Ole Petter Ottersen, the guild’s acting secretary-general, said a European degree could result in “more seamless cooperation at the European level”, while stressing that “a more tightly knit European academic community should not detract from our global engagement but rather serve as a springboard for an even stronger engagement with global partners.”

Jo Angouri, deputy pro vice-chancellor for education and internationalisation at the University of Warwick, a guild member, described the creation of European degrees as “a chance to bring real value added for the sector by simplifying process and cutting red tape in [quality assurance] frameworks”.

“The European degree agenda offers a rare prospect to accomplish objectives beyond the reach of existing designs. We should not let this chance slip away,” Professor Angouri added.

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