Is the restructuring of the European higher education sector coming to an end?

16 May 2019

Data collected by EUA shows that a peak in merger and clustering activities involving universities occurred in the mid-2010s, with an average of nine such processes completed each year between 2005 and 2015.

In a recently published briefing, EUA explores the characteristics of these mergers, clusters and concentration processes over the last two decades, and exposes different commonly found profiles. Although higher education systems in some countries are close to consolidation and merger activity is starting to decrease, system restructurings are still in process in other countries, with more merger activity expected in the coming year in countries as diverse as France, Greece or Lithuania.

Merger and concentration activity takes various forms and has evolved throughout the period. In a context of renewed political impetus for university cooperation, the high participation in the European Commission’s European universities initiative is a testament of the interest and willingness of the sector to engage further into collaboration. More than 300 higher education institutions, gathered in 54 consortia, applied for the scheme that aims at structuring transnational alliances – charged with the ambitious goals of “promoting European values and identity, and revolutionising the quality and competitiveness of European higher education”. Earlier EUA research on university mergers and concentration processes identified a series of hurdles to overcome in order to have successful results; the European-level initiative faces additional complexities, among which the barriers created by different funding and regulatory frameworks among European countries. Thus the 2019 and 2020 pilot calls will deliver useful insights for a thorough discussion on these parameters, which appears necessary to enhance bottom-up restructuring activity in higher education.

While the European Commission does not make it an explicit criterion for evaluation of the proposals, it regards the integration of various types of higher education institutions very positively. EUA’s briefing shows that there is already large-scale activity in bringing universities closer together with other institutions, such as universities of applied sciences, business schools and other specialised institutes, as well as research organisations.

The data on mergers is available on EUA’s university merger tool, which maps over 130 cases of mergers and concentration processes in 22 European countries.

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