Creating a division of elite Euro-universities?
If you take a look at the Times Higher Education world university rankings, you will see that, apart from the United Kingdom, only one European country has a university in the global top 20 – and that’s Switzerland, which isn’t even in the European Union. This has been a source of irritation and concern to some European governments, and partly in consequence there has been a good bit of talk about the idea of creating a new set of rankings devised in Europe (and by implication likely to favour European universities).
Now another idea has been suggested by the President of Maastricht University, Dr Jo Ritzen. The journal Times Higher Education reports that he has called for ‘top European universities to be directly funded through the European Union.’ This would create a European super league that would allow Europe to ‘come higher with fewer resources’.
Leaving aside for a moment the suggestion that fewer resources would not stand in the way of greater global recognition, I find it hard to believe that having a Euro-elite would raise the performance of Europe’s universities. Furthermore, any such league would immediately be under irresistible pressure to have a balanced membership between the member states, so that Greece, for example would have a right to have one of its universities included (none of which feature in the global top 200).
Also, it would be difficult to be confident that members of this Euro-league would be able to enjoy a coherent funding framework, that they would still find interaction with their local (national) universities to be fruitful, or that the control mechanisms put in place would not err on the size of excessive bureaucracy.
It is of course a perfectly legitimate (if somewhat risky) approach to ignore the league tables altogether. But if they are to be taken seriously, then under-performance will not easily be remedied by setting up a new grouping of universities with a new set of complex regulatory and funding arrangements. I’m not sure that Dr Ritzen’s proposal is a good idea.