Universities and the future(s) of Europe: from foresight to insight to action

As part of the new “Universities and the future of Europe” (UniFE) project, EUA will bring together a small group of up to 20 university leaders from across Europe at an exclusive Leadership Retreat from 22-23 May. During two half-day sessions (from lunch to lunch) at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, participants will take a step back from their daily routine and think strategically about the future of universities and European cooperation.

In highly interactive workshop sessions inspired by foresight methodologies, participants will explore signals of change, dive into forecasts and scenarios of possible and preferred futures, reflect on the preparedness of their universities, and jointly expand upon universities’ wishes and needs for Europe and future European cooperation. Two days in the hills overlooking Florence, away from the everyday hustle and bustle, will allow participants to gain new insights and inspiration from peers and look at their daily challenges with fresh eyes and energy.

Through various consultations and workshops with EUA members running throughout 2023, the UniFE project aims to develop concrete ideas about what Europe’s universities want from future collaboration and what they need in terms of framework conditions, political structures, and multilateral frameworks. Outcomes will feed into EUA's engagement around the European elections in 2024 and the Association’s overall approach to European policy making.

Working sessions will be facilitated by Thomas Jørgensen and Anna-Lena Claeys-Kulik, respectively Director and Deputy Director for Policy Coordination and Foresight at EUA.


The Leadership Retreat is open to university leaders from EUA member universities (rectors, vice-rectors, presidents, vice-presidents) who are willing to actively contribute to the exchange.

To allow for interactive discussions, this event is limited to a maximum of 20 participants. Participants will be selected based on their responses to the call for interest, with due consideration for geographical, gender, and institutional diversity. If you wish to participate in the workshop, please submit your application via the online form no later than 23 March 2023.

Participation in the retreat is free including lunch on Monday the 22 May and Tuesday the 23 May, and dinner on Monday the 22 May. Travel and accommodation costs are to be covered by the participant.

Please note that if you apply for the UniFE Leadership Retreat in Florence, you cannot in parallel apply for the online UniFE Leadership Workshop on 28 March. Therefore, we kindly ask you to choose between the two events before you apply.

Programme (as of 07/02/2023)

Day 1 – 22 May 2023

13.00-14.00: Lunch

14.00-15.00: Welcome and introduction

  • European University Association
  • European University Institute
  • Icebreaking exercise: future four square game

15.00-16.00: Looking back to look forward  

In this session, participants will identify turning points in higher education and research and related national and European level developments over the past 20 years. This will be done in form of small group exercises, where participants can share their individual perspectives and experiences, followed by a discussion with the entire group. The purpose of this exercise is to jointly reflect on what these past developments and change points may tell us about the future and what we can learn from them.

16.00-16.30: Coffee break

16.30-18.00: The present: where is your university now?

In this session, participants will exchange about the opportunities and threats that their universities are currently faced with and reflect on their institutions’ level of preparedness. This will take the form of individual SWOT analysis exercises followed by a group discussion of the results.

18.00-20.00: Free time

20.00-22.00: Dinner


Day 2 – 23 May 2023

09.00-10.30: Signals of change: what will change tomorrow?

In this session participants will explore political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental developments at national, European, and international level that are likely to impact universities. They will look for signals of change and discuss what is driving this change, to establish what future forces must be considered to prepare strategies and actions in the present. This will take the form of a world-café exercise followed by a group discussion.

10.30-11.00: Coffee break

11.00-11.45: Our preferred future(s)

After a short inspirational input presenting EUA’s “Universities without walls – A vision for 2030”, in small groups participants will discuss where they would like universities to go in the future and what they think is possible and plausible. The outcomes of the group discussions will then be shared with the entire group.  

11.45-12.45: How to get there (backcasting)

In a moderated group discussion, participants will discuss what universities need to get closer to their preferred future, both in terms of external framework conditions and internal factors: what would need to change, and where and how could European cooperation help?

12.45-13.00: Wrap-up and closing

13.00-14.00: Lunch

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