Transversal Erasmus+ Priorities: Drivers of Strategic Developments

Based on the example of Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences
Reading time: 8 min.

The overarching goal of the Erasmus+ programme in the higher education sector is to strengthen the international competencies, personal development and employability of students. The 2021–2027 programme generation also places a special focus on four horizontal priorities of societal change: inclusion and diversity, environment and fight against climate change, digital transformation and participation in democratic life. How do these transversal priorities act as drivers of strategic developments at institutions of higher education?

The Erasmus+ programme aims to equip the citizens of the European Union with the skills, knowledge and experience they need to tackle the current and future challenges of our society. Global climate change and sustainable development, digitalisation, social inclusion and democratic participation are key issues that are taken into account in university education. Transversal subjects play an increasingly important role fulfilling these tasks.

Institutions of higher education over the course of time

Higher education institutions face a host of challenges that go well beyond the confines of traditional knowledge generation and mediation. The horizontal priorities of the Erasmus+ programme act as a catalyst for innovation and strategic action. Erasmus+ projects

  • in the area of environment and climate action, for example, serve to develop a sustainable campus infrastructure or to integrate education for sustainable development into curricula; 
  • that promote participation in democratic life foster critical thinking and raise students’ awareness of democratic values;
  • on digital transformation help adapt teaching methods and teach students and teachers digital skills; 
  • on inclusion and diversity promote the development of barrier-free learning environments and the integration of disadvantaged groups.

Strategic actions in Erasmus+ project funding

The Erasmus+ projects differ in terms of objectives and long-term strategies. One of the most ambitious programmes is the European Universities initiative, which aims to amalgamate the strengths and diversity of European research and teaching in new institutional structures in order to tackle the challenges that are confronting Europe.

To raise transnational cooperation between these institutions to an even higher level more quickly, the European Commission has been funding ten Erasmus+ pilot projects across Europe since the beginning of 2023. Six of the selected projects are testing a joint European degree label. The other four projects are exploring the possibility of establishing a European legal status for alliances of European Universities. The pilot projects are helping to implement the European Higher Education Strategy and are considered as milestones in the realisation of a European Education Area. 

Transversal issues as catalysts for innovation

One higher education institution that exploits the potential of transversal issues as a driver of strategic actions is Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Together with its eight partner universities (since the second funding phase) in the context of the European Universities alliance «University of Technology» (EUt+), it aims to merge into an independent European university in the long term with locations across Europe. As one of the first technology-oriented European universities, the alliance wants to advance the process of European integration. It will focus particularly on sustainability issues, which will be coordinated in future in an EUt+ Green Office. Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences is also involved in two of the ten selected Erasmus+ pilot projects with the «JEDI – Joint European Degree label in engineering – Toward a European framework for engineering education» and «STYX – EUt+ Status and structure experience», a project which is testing a possible legal status for European Universities alliances. 

Outlook: Transversal issues pave the way for future-oriented education

Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and its involvement in the European Universities alliance EUt+ (see interview with Professor Steinmetz) is a best-practice example of how transversal issues drive forward strategic action at universities. By placing these transversal issues at the centre of its education and research strategies, Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences shows how universities can play an active role in addressing global challenges. Membership of the EUt+ alliance has given the University a platform through which it can realise its vision of future-oriented education at an international level.

Kathrin Herres
EU04 – Policy Support

Partners of the European University of Technology

  • Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences (Germany) 
  • Rīgas Tehniskā universitāte (Latvia) 
  • Technological University Dublin (Ireland) 
  • Технически университет София (Technical University of Sofia) (Bulgaria)
  • Τεχνολογικό Πανεπιστήμιο Κύπρου (Cyprus Technical University) (Cyprus) 
  • Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (Spain)
  • Universitatea Tehnică din Cluj-Napoca (Romania) 
  • Université de technologie de Troyes (France)
  • Università degli studi di Cassino e del Lazio Meridionale (Italy – since November 2023)

Further information

HS Darmstadt

Information about the European Universities on the NA DAAD website (German)

Information about the Erasmus+ pilot projects relating to the European Degree label and the European legal status for university alliances on the NA DAAD website (German)

Interview with Professor Arnd Steinmetz

In an interview with the NA DAAD, the President of Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences (h_da), Professor Arnd Steinmetz, provides an insight into the University’s involvement in the European Universities alliance EUt+ and the strategic benefits this has for the University.

Portrait of Professor Dr Arnd Steinmetz, President of Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences
© Gregor Schuster/Hochschule Darmstadt

Professor Arnd Steinmetz is President of Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, which has been part of the European University of Technology (EUt+) alliance since 2020

Why is Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences participating in the European Universities alliance EUt+? What vision is it pursuing?

Professor Steinmetz: Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences is a top-performing university of applied sciences and as such recognises societal challenges and develops practical solutions. Our mission to make an impact on society is consistent with the objective of the European University of Technology to educate a new generation of European citizens and in this way to help build a sustainable future.

To tackle global challenges, we need value-based technological solutions that are geared towards the needs of people and the environment («Think Human First – European Values Empowering Technology»). EUt+ allows us to learn from each other, to work together to develop a responsible understanding of technology and to give this understanding a global voice as a European university.

How was the collaboration initiated?

The University occupies a pioneering role among German universities of applied sciences, having acquired the right to award doctorates, system accreditation and through knowledge and technology transfer, among other things. It aims to maintain and expand this role further with the European Universities initiative. EUt+ also offers us the unique opportunity to significantly shape the European Education Area and this incentivises many employees. The alliance partners see EUt+ not as a project but as a strategic focus which is seeking to transform the universities into a European institution. So our goal is a merger. And this is also firmly embedded in h_da’s target agreements with the Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts. They include establishing governance structures within EUt+ but also involving all internal university committees as well as status and interest groups in this development process.

How does Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences work with its partner universities in the European Universities alliance EUt+ and in what way does transnational cooperation help the University achieve its overarching goals?

The first funding phase of EUt+ is defined by a work package structure, within which regular work sessions and personal meetings take place. These are used to discuss outcomes and exchange information about conditions that are specific to the individual countries, but they also enable participants to get to know each other personally and build trust. This is important for our common goals and cooperation. We have weekly video conferences and monthly face-to-face meetings at one of the working group or committee locations. These have proven crucial for effective communication and a comprehensive, shared understanding of EUt+.

Membership of EUt+ has been beneficial for us from the outset, helping us build our profile and position ourselves on our key topics (mobility, sustainable development, digitalisation and society). Our visibility as a university of applied sciences has also increased significantly. 

You recently entered the second funding phase of the European Universities initiative. You are simultaneously piloting two Erasmus+ projects on the European Degree label and the European legal status of the university alliances, alongside numerous other initiatives. How have you managed to do this?

This has to do with our participatory approach, which offers members of all partner universities the opportunity to contribute and present their ideas. This was much more challenging for the editorial team during the application process, but ultimately the very positive assessments have validated this approach.

We have many highly motivated members of faculty, researchers, staff and students at h_da who are committed to EUt+. Our challenge is communicating the vision of EUt+ across the entire University. We are currently holding some fascinating discussions on this subject in all committees and faculties.

Given that EUt+ is the only alliance to seek an institutional solution, it was crucial that we were involved in determining its legal form. Clarification of the structure of genuinely European degree programmes was also of fundamental importance to us as an EU institution. We were able to present both in the proposals.

What specific actions and initiatives to promote sustainability is Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences planning as part of the EUt+ Green Office?

Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences co-founded the EUt+ Green Office and is instrumental in supporting its development and all activities. The EUt+ Green Office aims to be a platform that helps EUt+ as a whole and also individual universities to develop sustainably, in other words in teaching, research, operations and governance. All university partners are involved in the EUt+ Green Office and the Office is attracting considerable attention. Specific actions designed to appeal to as many partner universities as possible are still being finalised. In the next funding phase, h_da will head the task force in charge of institutionalising the EUt+ Green Office.

How will the EUt+ Green Office help promote sustainability at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and in the European Universities alliance?

The EUt+ Green Office will advise and support the EUt+ governance boards (steering committee, secretary general) and, of course, the individual work packages on issues of sustainability. As a platform for all university partners, the Green Office also facilitates direct exchange on the specific sustainability issues of individual universities, which will then be able to support each other.

The EUt+ Green Office is staffed by employees from different areas of the universities who are involved with sustainability. Its agenda currently includes developing a common understanding of sustainability for the EUt+ Green Office (memorandum of understanding).


Interviewed by Kathrin Herres

EUt+ map showing all partner universities and their location. Europe is shown in dark blue and the universities are depicted with yellow plus signs and the logos of the universities in white/negative.

In the winter semester 2022/2023, 15,474 students were enrolled at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Of the University’s total student population, 6 percent were women and 16 percent of international origin.

Kathrin Herres, EU04 – Policy Support