European Universities as Models and Sources of Inspiration

The example of the ENLIGHT alliance
Reading time: 7 min.

This is one of the youngest funding lines, and yet the European Universities have an outstanding position in Erasmus+. They will play a leading role in the European Education Area and act as a model and source of inspiration for good practice in the European higher education landscape. One key area is that of inclusion and diversity. Equal opportunities for all, diversity and gender equality are the goals to which the initiative is firmly committed.

«Inclusion and diversity» are multidimensional

The actions planned, designed and in part already implemented by the European University Alliances to achieve this priority goal are manifold, as illustrated by an article published in DAAD Aktuell (German) at the end of November 2021. They range from networks with schools, associations and businesses to the use of micro-credentials, online offers und project-based training formats. 

On the one hand, this broad spectrum reflects the fact that in Erasmus+, many different aspects are subsumed under «inclusion and diversity», including all kinds of disabilities and health problems, but also cultural differences and geographical barriers. On the other, it is explained by the fact that European University Alliances are networks of institutions with different traditions, perspectives and approaches as well as diverse experiences and outlooks.

Diversity of perspectives – a challenge and a chance

The fact that this circumstance impacts the work of the alliances is underlined by Professor Dr Andrea D. Bührmann, Director of the Diversity Research Institute at the University of Göttingen and member of the ENLIGHT network, which was established in 2020, in which nine universities from as many Erasmus+ programme countries – the 27 EU member states and six third countries associated with the programme – work together. «The challenges we face in connection with diversity and inclusion,» explains the diversity researcher (German), «are mainly to do with understanding the different perspectives of the stakeholders from the various universities and finding a common strategy.»

In an article co-written with Elena Futter-Buck, Andrea D. Bührmann explains how the ENLIGHT alliance is successfully tackling these challenges. What obstacles do they face? How can they be overcome? Which institutions are involved in the relevant processes? And what roles do they play in developing measures? These are some of the key questions they examine. mk

Yvonne Schnocks
EU03 – European Universities

Further information

There are currently (as of January 2023) 44 alliances with around 340 participating higher educational institutions in 31 countries (all EU member states as well as Iceland, Norway, Serbia and Turkey): 24 from the second pilot round and 20 that were successful in the first regular selection phase at the end of July 2022. They include 16 projects from existing alliances from the first pilot call and 4 from new university alliances that are striving for a more intensive institutional collaboration. For more detailed information, go to: (German) [6 September 2022].

Europäische Kommission 
European Universities initiative

European Universities (German)

Film: «Auf dem Weg zu Europäischen Hochschulen»(German) 
European University Networks [EUN] – national initiative

Successfully shaping cross-border collaboration

Text: Andrea D. Bührmann, Elena Futter-Buck/University of Göttingen

In the ENLIGHT alliance, we understand equity, diversity and inclusion to be important cross-sectional areas for the sustainable development of universities. We advocate a broad view of the term inclusion, which refers to a university community where all members are and feel respected, have a sense of belonging and are able to participate and achieve their full potential.

An intensive exchange

In working groups composed of diverse stakeholders, we talked to representatives of all alliance members on all levels about concepts that will have an impact in the respective universities, but also in their organisational environment. It was helpful in this context that some members of the ENLIGHT alliance – such as the Universities of Ghent or Göttingen – had already developed inclusive and transformative diversity strategies. These strategies aim not only to promote structures and processes of inclusion within the universities themselves but more importantly to diversify their environment. In this way, they strengthen participation in relevant decision-making processes, encourage the development of sustainable concepts for equal opportunities in the respective universities, and at the same time, they reduce marginalisation processes in their local and regional environment. 

In this context, the members of the alliance have worked together to develop various sets of measures to implement the goals. They include cross-alliance workshops and lectures that address the subjects of equity, diversity and inclusion. This means that competencies and knowledge are shared within the alliances (skill-sharing) and ways to promote equal opportunities and inclusion in international mobilities are collected. 

Steps and measures taken

We want to illustrate how these measures are actually operationalised by looking at one example. We describe the activities from two perspectives: firstly, from that of stakeholders involved in the «community-based research[MK1] [MK2] [SP3] » project «Diversity on site», which we have been conducting for several years in close cooperation with the city of Göttingen in the Master's programme in Diversity Studies in the Social Sciences at the University of Göttingen; and secondly, from that of the co-organisers of the ENLIGHT Teaching & Learning Conference, which took place in Göttingen in November 2022.

Community-based research (CBR) is a common welfare-oriented approach to research in which communities, researchers and students work on current social challenges in an equitable way. The research questions come from the regional environment of the university. In the ENLIGHT alliance, challenge-based learning and teaching is just as important as cooperation with local stakeholders in the university's environment.

In retrospect, we single out three implementation steps:   

  • Establishing a common understanding in the ENLIGHT alliance. In various working groups at the level of the ENLIGHT alliance, but equally in Göttingen, we reached a shared understanding of the goals. Experts from the field but also strategic decision-makers were involved in this process.Community-based research projects were also understood as transdisciplinary transfer measures. Initial discussions took place prior to the application at an international workshop at the University of Bordeaux. 
  • Identification of tested best-/good-practice examples. Based on these discussions, measures or projects that have already been tested and implemented at the respective universities were identified and included in an overview for alliance members.
  • Alliance-wide exchange about activities and measures. Two activities were launched at the University of Göttingen – and many more in the alliance. Firstly, the subjects of equity, diversity and inclusion were applied to all ENLIGHT work packages and discussed in a virtual workspace. The results of this exchange together with the list of best practice examples were fed into the Teaching and Learning Lab and discussed at the Teaching and Learning Conference. Secondly, relevant workshops took place at this international conference. In the workshop «Diversity on-site: negotiating co-creation and experiences of differences in community-based learning», we considered our CBR experiences. On the one hand, we wanted to present tried-and-tested projects. On the other, we wanted to draw on each other’s experience and discuss success factors and obstacles for CBR projects with stakeholders from research, university teaching, but first and foremost with students, teaching staff and people active in the region, and to develop these findings in line with the objectives of ENLIGHT. Further dissemination activities will be developed on the basis of this, which will then be incorporated in the planned evaluation processes of the ENLIGHT alliance. The workshops at the conference provide an intermediate evaluation.  
People of different genders, skin and hair colors, nationalities and religions turn to each other in a crowd

What have we learned in this process (so far)?

From our perspective, three factors appear to be particularly critical for success: 

  • Firstlyit is extremely important to talk about supposedly obvious issues and – as far as possible – develop a common understanding of subjects and processes, and to adjust these on a regular basis.Many «supposedly» straightforward terms, such as justice, diversity and especially inclusion, turn out to be anything but clear-cut in concrete collaborations. This is why it is advisable not to try and impose one’s own understanding on others, but to strengthen commonalities in understanding according to the concept of boundary objects and to accept different views for what they are. 
  • Secondlywe think it’s important to actively address diversity in diverse teams and therefore also the diversity of perspectives that emerges from them. It is about appreciating and respecting differences and commonalities as such, and learning from each other. This attitude fosters a creative and innovative atmosphere and establishes good starting points for tackling the challenges that lie ahead, in particular those relating to health, digitalisation, climate change, energy consumption and the circular economy, and equal opportunities. 
  • Thirdly, it is important to actively involve communities or regions in discussions and research processes on equal terms. It’s no longer just about «translation work» between different academic disciplines. It’s about mediating between different social subsystems with their own logic and idiosyncrasies, but indeed also with their own areas of expertise. In this way, collaborations can be successfully established across disciplines, methods, social status, cultures and systems, in short: cross-border collaboration! 
Prof. Andrea D. Bührmann
University of Göttingen

ENLIGHT – European university Network to promote equitable quality of LIfe, sustainability & Global engagement through Higher education Transformation

Factsheet from the European Commission  
Profile from DAAD (German)