U4 is the strategic partnership between Ghent University (BE), University of Göttingen (DE), University of Groningen (NL), and Uppsala University (SE). It is based on well-established, existing, bilateral agreements between the partner universities.
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The overarching goal of the partnership is to provide a platform for joint initiatives within the fields of education, research and institutional management, as well as to build a supportive framework for collaboration as preferential partners in international projects and in the international context.
The U4 network constitutes a deeply consolidated, institutionalised, and long-term partnership that embraces the whole range of activities within the four partner universities. In this respect, U4 holds a unique position in the rapidly changing global and European higher education arena, which currently sees a growing number of temporary and project-based collaborations that are largely dependent on external and/or short-term funding.
The ambition of the U4 network is to strengthen each partner university's international position and visibility by means of intensive cooperation in education, research and university management.
The U4 Network aims to:
- Broadening the partner universities' educational offer by pooling resources
- Facilitating and enhancing the U4 students' international experiences
- Strengthening the research output by facilitating cooperation and supporting joint projects
- Sharing knowledge and pooling resources within the area of university management
- Providing education based on the overarching values and principles of human rights, openness and democracy
- Actively taking a stand for the universities' right to autonomy and academic freedom
- Working towards a joint U4 declaration on sustainability
The U4 network includes four comprehensive European universities that operate in similar contexts, i.e. which are located in cities of a similar profile and size. All universities are well-reputed, have high positions in international rankings, and share a history of cooperation.
At the level of university leadership and management, the U4 network provides an arena for an open dialogue and the exchange of experiences among the partner universities based on mutual trust. In this respect, U4 can be characterised as a learning network that gradually defines common benchmarks based on critical peer reviewing.
By being a small and operative learning network for students and staff, including university leaders, U4 discerns itself from the large university associations. Hence, the strength of the U4 network is the partner universities' mutual commitment to form a platform for cooperation by making use of their complementary strengths and the pooling of resources. Since there is a shared responsibility to ensure the continuity of the network, U4 is firmly embedded within the partner universities' institutional strategies.
U4 is inherently a small and closed network. Yet, good practices of the network and activities such as the leadership and peer review programmes are shared in several international fora, e.g. the Coimbra Group, EAIE, EUA, the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, and HUMANE. Furthermore, the cooperation with external partners in the context of project consortia etc. is encouraged for both academic and strategic reasons.
The U4 network embraces all scientific disciplines, all levels of education (with a focus on masters' and doctoral-level) and all fields of activities within university administration and management. As a university-wide cooperation platform the U4 network thus offers a framework for multidisciplinary initiatives and for identifying complementary strengths among the partners.
The tools for implementing the U4 partnership are:
1. Preferential U4 partnership in transnational, EU, and other international project consortia, resulting in joint applications for external funding.
2. Joint initiatives in education, research and institutional management; e.g. joint winter/summer schools, joint secondary and third cycle programmes (joint/double degrees), student and staff exchange/training opportunities
3. Joint communication, largely by means of the U4 website
4. The pooling of resources, the exchange of knowledge and peer reviewing.
5. An annual Rectors' Conference that is organised and hosted alternately by the partner universities.
6. Annual Cluster meetings that precede the Rectors' Conference.
U4 is a decentralised network that operates by means of four scientific clusters, each of which is hosted by one of the partner universities, and one administrative cluster:
- Humanities (hosted by Ghent University)
- Medicine and Pharmacy (hosted by University of Groningen)
- Science and Technology (hosted by Uppsala University)
- Social Sciences, Economics and Law (hosted by University of Göttingen)
- Institutional Management (alternating host)
The daily management of the network at an overarching level is run by four U4 coordinators; one at each partner university.
All partners within the U4 network consider themselves equals and share the commitment of ensuring the continuity of the partnership. Therefore, U4 is part of the institutional strategy at each of the partner universities and is embedded in their organisational structures.
The U4 network as a whole is governed jointly by the four Rectors who define the general U4 strategy. The scientific clusters are each governed by a cluster chair from the designated host university, with assistance of a cluster contact person from each of the other partners. In addition, some of the partner universities have designated a cluster coordinator who is an operative assistant to the cluster chair or cluster representative.
The cluster chair is responsible for setting the cluster agenda and for the organisation of an annual cluster meeting, which precedes the annual rectors' conference.
With respect to the Institutional Management cluster there is a system with annually alternating hosts, i.e. the same university that is responsible for hosting the Rectors' conference a particular year is also the host for the Institutional Management cluster. The University Directors (Vice Rectors/Directors) and/or chief representatives for internationalisation decide twice a year upon the agenda for this cluster and joint international projects.