In September 2017 the French president Emmanuel Macron, during his Sorbonne speech on the future of Europe, called for the creation by 2024 of twenty European Universities, building “a network of universities across Europe with programmes that have all their students study abroad and take classes in at least two languages. These European Universities will also be drivers of educational innovation and the quest for excellence”.
The European Commission proposed this initiative to European Union (EU) leaders ahead of the Gothenburg Social Summit in November 2017. In the conclusions adopted on December 14th 2017, the European Council called on the Member States, the Council, and the Commission to take work forward in line with their respective competencies.
These stakeholders were requested to take the work forward with a view to “strengthening strategic partnerships across the EU between higher education institutions and encouraging the emergence by 2024 of some twenty ‘European Universities’, consisting in bottom-up networks of universities across the EU which will enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several EU countries and contribute to the international competitiveness of European Universities”.
In this context, the former Rector of the University of Cadiz (UCA, Spain), Prof. Eduardo González-Mazo, recruited Prof. José A. Muñoz-Cueto as Rector’s Delegate in May 2018 and gave him the mandate of launching an alliance of European Universities to extend to Europe, a successful regional model such as the International Campus of Excellence of the Sea (CEIMAR) coordinated by UCA.
The first contacts to build the European University of the Seas (SEA-EU) took place on June 22nd 2018, when a delegation composed of Prof. José A. Muñoz-Cueto, and Prof. Fidel Echevarría, Director of the International Doctoral School in Sea Studies at UCA, visited the Université de Bretagne Occidentale (UBO, France) presided by Prof. Matthieu Gallou. They were received by a delegation composed of Prof. Yves-Marie Paulet, Vice-president in charge of Maritime Affairs, Prof. Béatrice Thomas-Tual, Vice-president for Europe and International Relations, and Prof. Christian Brosseau, Vice-president for Research and Innovation, and discussed the possibility to work together in the establishment of an alliance of coastal universities and apply together to the first call of the European Universities Initiative 2019. In addition to their common specialisation, UCA and UBO have a long history of more than thirty years of successful academic collaboration. Cadiz and Brest have been twinned cities since 1986.
From this moment, UCA and UBO established a round of contacts with other potential candidate universities to join the consortium. By fulfilling its motto “In mari via tua” (The sea is your way), the University of Gdańsk (UG, Poland) strives towards the development of the Pomeranian region, whose greatest asset is indeed the sea.
On July 5th 2018, Prof. José A. Muñoz-Cueto visited the UG, chaired by the Rector, Prof. Jerzy Piotr Gwizdała, and met Prof. Piotr Stepnowski, Vice-rector for Research and International Cooperation, Prof. Mariusz Sapota, Director of the Institute of Oceanography of Gdańsk, Dr. Adam Jagiello-Rusilowski, Head of the International Office and Dr. Ewa Szymczak, Deputy Dean for Education at the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography at UG.
In this meeting, UG representatives expressed their intention to participate in this joint initiative. On September 10th 2018, some UCA and UBO delegations members went to Brussels and met with Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of the Higher Education Unit of the European Commission (DG EACEA). The exchanges were highly constructive, fruitful, and encouraging.
The delegation was able to transmit to the Commission their strategy, the marine/maritime driving force, and the geographical balance planned for the Alliance. Although the driving force of the Alliance was this expertise in marine/maritime disciplines of partner universities, the aim was to draw up an interdisciplinary proposal involving Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering, Humanities and Health Sciences, and fostering in the long-term, networking of the universities as a whole.
The insularity of Malta and its geopolitical position in the Mediterranean region, its maritime-related cultural heritage, the undergraduate and postgraduate teaching offer and the research activity developed in marine/maritime disciplines at different Faculties and Institutes of the University of Malta (UM, Malta) made this university an excellent partner candidate to join the growing consortium. Thus, the Spanish and French core group contacted Prof. Alfred Vella, Rector of UM, and visited Malta on October 15th 2018, to meet Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino, Pro-rector for International Development and Quality Assurance, Prof. Aldo Drago, a specialist in Marine Oceanography, Prof. Claire de Marco, leader of the Maritime Cluster and Victoria Gauci, Acting Deputy Director of the International Office at UM. From the first contact, the UM representatives manifested their commitment to the Alliance and their availability to work with other partners to prepare a successful proposal.
The focus on oceanography and fishing, island and coastal economy, Adriatic tourism, maritime law, nautical science, naval architecture, and a range of other specific disciplines related to their strong Adriatic/Mediterranean orientation were considered essential reasons to incorporate the University of Split (UNIST, Croatia) in this exciting adventure.
Following some email communications, a Spanish, French and Polish delegation represented by Jose A. Muñoz-Cueto (UCA), Fidel Echevarría (UCA), Beatrice Thomas-Tual (UBO), Piotr Stepnowski (UG) and Kamila Chomicz Sokołowska, Head of the International Cooperation Office (UG) conducted a visit to UNIST on October 22nd 2018. During their stay, this delegation exchanged their views on this initiative with the Governing Board of UNIST.
The Governing Board of UNIST was represented by its Rector, Prof. Dragan Ljutić, Prof. Đurđica Miletić, Vice-rector for International Cooperation, Prof. Leandra Vranješ Markić, Vice-rector for Science and Innovation, Prof. Tomislav Kilić, Vice-rector for Business Administration, Prof. Goran Kardum, Vice-rector for Education and Prof. Željko Radić, Vice-rector for Administration and Development of Human Resources. After a presentation of UCA, UBO, UG, UM and UNIST, these universities discussed their common strategy and application to the European Universities Initiative, which the University of Split was willing to join from these first contacts.
Kiel University (CAU, Germany) is dedicated to research-based teaching and learning, and marine science represents one of its four dynamic priority research areas.
The Future Ocean Network is an association of CAU researchers centred at the Kiel Marine Science (KMS). As the successors to the “Future Ocean” Cluster of Excellence, they jointly implement research projects that contribute to the sustainable use of ocean resources on an interdisciplinary and cross-institutional basis. Contacted by UBO, which had a strong relationship with CAU through the Erasmus+ programme, and because Brest and Kiel are twinned cities, CAU was the last partner to join the European University of the Seas.
Following the launch of the European Universities Initiative under the 2019 Erasmus+ call, in October 2018, the SEA-EU started the preparation of the proposal. The first meeting of the Alliance took place in Paris on November 5th, 2018 and Brussels on November 6-7th, 2018.
On December 19th 2018, the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture and the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) set up an information session.
After that, a consortium meeting took place in Brussels on December 18-19th 2018, with seventeen participants from the UCA, UBO, CAU, UG, UNIST and UM. Work Packages (WPs) contents were discussed and precisely defined in these sessions. The distribution of responsibilities, collaborations between partners in the development of WPs and division of work for the writing of different parts of the proposal were agreed, as well as the budget distribution. The consortium met Wim Gabriels, as representative of ESN in Brussels, and proposed that ESN join the project as an associated partner by participating in local ESN committees from each university.
On December 19th 2018, the six partners signed the Declaration Paper on the Establishment of the SEA-EU, in the presence of Andres Contreras and Cristina Galache, Counsellors for Education at the Permanent Representation of Spain to the EU, and Lucía Sirera, from the European Office of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE). A final meeting was held on January 24-25th 2019 in Spain as a coordinating institution, chaired by the former Rector of UCA, Prof. Eduardo González-Mazo, permitting the six partner universities to share their final reflections and work in the last steps of the proposal.
The call for proposals closed on February 28th 2019, at noon (Brussels time). The results of the 2019 call were published on June 26th 2019.
The EACEA received a total of fifty-four eligible applications for this call. The first seventeen European University alliances, involving one hundred and fourteen higher education institutions from twenty-four Member States, were selected based on the recommendations of an Evaluation Committee assisted by external experts.
One of the chosen Alliances was the SEA-EU, with reference no. 612468-EPP-1-2019-1-ES-EPPKA2-EUR-UNIV, and after the signature of the Grant Agreement, this exciting project started its journey on October 1st 2019.
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