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European research universities form a new lobby organization—but did they need it?

The University of Groningen in the Netherlands is one of nine founding members of the new organization.

Eigenberg Fotografie/Creative Commons

European research universities form a new lobby organization—but did they need it?

Nine European universities that invest heavily in research have set up a new group to lobby the European Union's institutions. The Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, announced on Wednesday, includes the University of Oslo, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and the University of Bologna in Italy. It's seeking new members before its official launch in November.

But wait, you might ask—didn't Europe's research universities have an organization in Brussels already?

Yes, they do; that would be the influential League of European Research Universities (LERU), founded in 2002 and made up of 21 prestigious institutions, including the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, that do well in international university rankings. There are several other university organizations as well, such as the mammoth European University Association (EUA), with 850 members in 47 countries, and the Coimbra Group, which unites 38 European universities, including some of the guild's founding members. (There's also IDEA League and the EuroTech Universities Alliance, which are made up of just four and five universities, respectively.)

There really was no need for another lobbying body in Brussels, says Peter Tindemans, secretary general of the researchers' organization EuroScience in Strasbourg, France. “Better use the European University Association, or let LERU do the work,” Tindemans tells ScienceInsider, adding that LERU is one of the most “visible and effective” groups.

But research intensive universities not represented in LERU felt a need for a new channel to make themselves heard. The guild is seeking additional members especially in central, eastern, and southern Europe, where LERU represents few universities. “Our ambition is to be genuinely pan-European,” says Anton Muscatelli, the guild's vice-chair during this formation period and principal of another founding member, the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom. The guild aims to include universities “that are some of Europe’s very best, also in countries that are less represented in international league tables,” Muscatelli says. The group plans to defend basic research in the European Union's future science funding programs.

LERU is positive about the new kid on the block, saying it hopes to “join forces with them in our Brussels battles.” For example, LERU criticized academic publishers yesterday for resisting an E.U. push toward open-access scientific publishing. “Change will have to come from universities, so another strong group next to LERU is welcome,” says Kurt Deketelaere, LERU's secretary-general in Leuven, Belgium.

The EUA—of which all nine founders of the guild are members—also sounds a welcoming note. “The EUA stands behind any initiative that aims to better innovation, research and education in Europe,” and “looks forward to supporting [the Guild's members] in their efforts,” says a spokesperson for the association.