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About the project

About European Universities – Critical Futures

The project's focal question is:

  • What are the future roles of universities in creating social and regional integration in Europe, in a shifting global context?

To address this over three years, a network of senior and early stage researchers will include members of 17 higher education research centres in Denmark and across Europe.

They will hold a series of workshops incorporating PhD training events to share existing knowledge, develop new research and rethink the role of European universities in a situation of political, social and geopolitical upheaval.

The objectives are to collectively reshape the research agenda on European university research and generate ideas for engaging with national and European policy makers on future higher education and research strategies.

The network will investigate the university as a 'critical' institution in two senses.

First, universities' unique responsibility to act as 'critic and conscience of society' depends on fostering academics' and graduates' capacity to 'sustain open and critical thought', relentlessly scrutinise society and explore alternative ways of thinking and organising (Deem and Eggins 2017: 3).

Second, universities are critical for European development, in terms of social and political integration, and in providing an institutional framework through which Europe acts in the world. It is a time when the global context for which the ‘Europe of Knowledge’ was designed is rapidly shifting, there are doubts about the much-heralded global knowledge economy, and China is rising and USA declining as university powers.

In order to create new scientific concepts and methods for understanding and developing universities' social, political and strategic roles, in the midst of radically transforming European and global contexts, the network explores its focal question in three sub-themes.

Sub-themes of the project

  1. The roles of universities in European social and political integration (social mobility, refugees, democracy)
  2. The roles of universities in integration of European research and higher education ( global knowledge economy, ERA, EHEA)
  3. European universities in a shifting global context (China’s and other countries’ competing global strategies)


Across these three themes we will consider what research, policy and organisational changes are needed? How can the network best promote public debate of its ideas and discussions with policy makers? How can the research generated be translated into action? 

Further aims are first, to foster a generational shift, by forming networks among PhD students/early stage researchers (ESRs) and senior researchers, with space for ESRs to define agendas for collective future research, and second, to foster relationships with the policy community, such that they engage in dialogue with researchers about the agendas and ideas generated by the project.



The project starts with a combined conference and PhD course at DPU, Copenhagen on 6-8 May 2019.  In order to develop collaborative thinking on universities’ critical futures, the first two days are organised as a ‘search conference’, facilitated by Professor Davydd Greenwood (Emeritus, Cornell University) one of the best exponents of this participatory methodology.

This brings PhD students/ESRs together with senior researchers and members of the policy community to share their knowledge and current research about the role of universities in Europe and to discuss their aspirations and research ideas for the future.

In addition, there will be sessions to discuss the interface between European and university values; and to reflect on different techniques of future making. The third day will involve senior and early stage researchers focusing on each of the project’s above three themes to discuss PhD students’ current projects, generate foci for subsequent workshops and plan collaborative activities.


  • 26-27 August 2019:
    Workshop on Theme 1 – The social roles of European Universities – at Kassel.
    Organisers: Tim Seidenschnur (tim.seidenschnur@uni-kassel.de) and Jens Jungblut (j.p.w.jungblut@stv.uio.no)
  • Spring 2020:
    Workshop/PhD course on Theme 2 - The roles of universities in integrating European research and higher education – at DPU Copenhagen.
    Organisers: Amelia Veiga (aveiga@cipes.up.pt) and Krystian Szadkowski (krysszad@amu.edu.pl) with Sue Wright (suwr@edu.au.dk)
  • Summer/autumn 2020: 
    Workshop/PhD course on Theme 3 - European universities in a shifting global context – at DPU Copenhagen.
    Organisers: Marijk van der Wende (m.c.vanderwende@uu.nl) and Jie Gao (jiga@edu.au.dk) with Sue Wright (suwr@edu.au.dk)
  • Summer/autumn 2021:
    Final conference: Critical Futures for European Universities – at DPU, Copenhagen.
    Organiser: Sue Wright (suwr@edu.au.dk)