New opportunities for cooperation between academia and business are now being discussed for the years 2021-2027, in other words the second period of the Erasmus+ programme. Following a proposal from the European Commission, the Parliament issued in March 2019 a resolution on the continuation of Erasmus+ in which future support to projects under the label ‘European Universities‘ is foreseen.

The European Parliament (EP) states that the ‘European Universities’ should be excellence-driven in order to improve cooperation between research, innovation and education. However, the EP qualifies that excellence should be broadly interpreted, for example by involving higher education institutions covering a wide geographical area. From some corners, the first selection of projects under the label ‘European Universities’ was namely criticised for primarily strengthening regions that already had strong ties between research, innovation and education.

The European Parliament resolution also alludes to Sector Skills Alliances and envisages support for developing ‘transnational platforms’ in many forms and shapes: Centres of vocational excellence closely integrated in local and regional strategies for growth, innovation, competitiveness, sustainable development and social inclusion. This multitude of platforms corresponds with how the annual calls for Sector Skills Alliances evolved during the first phase of Erasmus+: towards broader alliances with multiple partners and stakeholders aiming to strengthen certain economic sectors and regions. The European Parliament now points out that the new centres of excellence should act as drivers of high vocational skills, while responding to sectorial challenges and supporting structural changes and socio-economic policies in the Union.

The European Parliament also follows up ideas from the Commission for continuing Knowledge Alliances between higher education and enterprises. The Parliament therefore writes that the new Erasmus+ should support cooperation for developing skills and competences in forward-looking study fields or disciplines. Then follows a long list of examples mirroring economic and societal challenges in which some Knowledge Alliances are already engaged. Among these are clean energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, data analysis and arts/design.

At last, the resolution on the future of Erasmus+ pays attention to Strategic Partnerships in the field of higher education, which presently is a decentralised action under the Erasmus+ programme. This action is handled by the national agencies in each European country. During the next period of the programme, there will be funds for ‘strategic partnerships for cooperation and exchanges of practices’. The text from the European Parliament explains that these will be small-scale partnerships to foster a wider and more inclusive access to the programme. In other words, very close to how Strategic Partnerships have functioned in the first programme period (2014-2020).

In sum, the European Parliament resolution from March 2019 leaves the impression that cooperation between universities and enterprises will be addressed in the new Erasmus+ as follows:

  • Knowledge Alliances often structured along a multi-disciplinary dimension
  • Sector Skills Alliances structured along regional and sectorial dimensions
  • Broader university networks mobilising the research community in a continued European Universities initiative

This attempt to delineate ongoing and future Erasmus+ activities could be a first point of orientation for those interested in the cooperation between universities and enterprises across European countries. And not to forget, setting up Strategic Partnerships remains an opportunity for a mix of old and new university and business partners wanting to submit a small-scale project.