Feedback on the European Commission's plan concerning a European strategy for universities - Feedback on the European Commission's plan concerning a European strategy for universities
Higher education institutions (HEIs) must be supported in managing and providing solutions to the societal challenges related to, for example, climate and technology. Therefore, a strategy aiming at providing that kind of support at European level will be the most welcome. It is important that the strategy pays due attention to the numerous aspects of digitalisation that have a deep transformative impact on the way HEIs perform their core functions and contribute to the society.
It is likely that higher education studies in the future will combine onsite and remote learning. This is a positive development as increased remote learning opportunities will improve access to higher education in a variety of fields even in more remote areas. However, particular attention must be paid to the quality and practical arrangements of remote learning. This will require developing easy-to-use digital solutions with appropriate support services for the teachers and students using them.
Other aspects to be considered in the context of digitalisation of education include improving the quality and availability of open educational resources as well as solving issues related to identification of students and proctoring of exams in remote learning. It must also be kept in mind that digitalisation of education extends far beyond the technological aspects and digital education must therefore be developed with a strong pedagogical approach. Teachers need to have necessary skills and competences to be able to fully leverage the new possibilities of digitalisation, and this does not mean only digital skills as such, but also new methodologies and ways of facilitating the learning environments.
Digitalisation can also contribute to the development of education and personalised learning by means of data analytics. While this can bring major improvements to the functioning of HEIs as well as individual learning results, it is crucial to ensure that data use is controlled and ethical, paying due attention to privacy and data protection. Students must always have the right to determine how their data is used, according to the MyData principles (mydata.org).
When it comes to the opportunities digitalisation presents to HEIs on the research side, digital research infrastructures (RIs) play a key role. In order to provide HEIs with the best possible research conditions, it is important to work towards a cross-border ecosystem of state-of-the-art RIs where High-Performance Computing, Quantum, Cloud, AI and data repositories all play a role. A European strategy for universities can give a major boost to the cooperation and trust that the development of such a collaborative ecosystem requires.
In order for the RI ecosystem to function properly, it must be fueled by abundant supply of high-quality research data. The European strategy for universities must promote the recognition of data management, based on the FAIR principles and the European Interoperability Framework, as an integral part of the research process. Efforts must also be made to ensure that publicly funded research data is always available free of charge, even if it relates to an article published behind the paywall of a scientific publication. The EU must develop ways to increase sustainable open access to research publications.
If provided with access to high-quality RIs and datasets, European HEIs are better equipped to perform research that contributes to responding to grand societal challenges, such as climate change and global pandemics. Another way for HEIs to contribute to the society is by educating specialists to work on similar topics outside the academia. The European strategy for universities can enhance both of these contributions by promoting deeper links between education, research and innovation, e.g. in the form of increased partnerships with the private sector. The strategy should also discuss ways to secure sustainable funding for the higher education sector.