The quality of European universities and their campuses not only affects policy agendas of education, research and innovation. It also affects Europe's position in the global competition for the best students and professors (the global 'battle for brains'), and the wider competitive advantage, productivity, profitability and sustainable development of Europe.
Many European universities often still have key advantages, including heritage and good inner-city locations -- highlighting the culture and history of Europe. However, they are also widely confronted with dysfunctional and energy-inefficient buildings that need reinvestment.
Earlier this month, two of my colleagues at Delft University of Technology, Associate Professor Alexandra den Heijer and George Tzovlas, launched a groundbreaking new book -- 'The European campus - heritage and challenges'. It is no exaggeration to say that this new study will set the agenda for years to come with a vision on the European campus of the future and guidelines for smart campus strategies.
The launch event was in Tallinn, Estonia at the annual conference of CESAER, the network of European Universities of Technology. This is a key conference with delegates present from the European Commission, and the European University Association.
As the new book rightly argues, the European campus is a crucial enabler for the future of Europe. This proposition has been thoroughly researched by both Alexandra and George who explored university campuses in all 28 European Union member states.
The new book summarises the current state of the European campus. It so doing, it highlights the heritage and underlines the challenges that more than 800 European universities are confronted with.
It argues that the 'fitness for purpose' of the European university campuses should be explicitly part of an EU strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the next 5-10 years and beyond.
And, with a new Parliament and President of the European Commission, now is a great time for Brussels to seize this agenda. After all, it could drive European prosperity for decades to come.
The book emphasises that the European campus (still) has the heritage and inner-city locations that provide students with a life experience as much as a learning experience. The unique qualities of European cities add to sense of place and attract students from all over the world.
However, the last part of the book compares country data and draws conclusions about age profile, condition, footprint etc. Many universities are investing in new state-of-the art facilities, but this heavily affects their financial sustainability.
At the same time, many existing European campuses are in very poor functional and physical condition, which negatively influences productivity and satisfaction of users. This requires reinvestment, but most of all: smart strategies.
Based on thorough data collection, best practices and prior research about managing university campuses, this groundbreaking book proposes campus stress testing as a tool for assessing the fitness for use of today's campuses. Sharing knowledge, benchmarking and self-assessment tools will map the readiness of Europe's higher education infrastructure to engage global competition.
And, crucially, pin-point key areas of deficiency, just as banking stress tests do. Many of these challenges are operationalised in this book.
The book has been written in close collaboration with European university networks and policy officers of the European Commission. It is highly relevant for presidents, university board members and policy makers from university to European Commission level, but also for (future) students, staff and visitors who are more than welcome at the European campus.
The exciting next steps in coming years will be to explore new theories for managing university campuses and provide information and tools to support decision-making in practice. In so doing, this will not only continue to set the European campus agenda for years to come, but also enhance our prosperity at a time when significant economic uncertainty continues across much of the continent.