University chiefs have called on European governments to invest in universities during the global financial crisis and use them as a 'motor' for economic recovery.
The heads of 500 universities issued the demands at the fifth European Universities Association convention in Prague last weekend. The association will draft a declaration on the issue to put to Europe's education ministers next month.
EUA president Jean-Marc Rapp told the meeting that universities were a long-term investment in Europe's future and urged governments to resist the temptation to cut public spending on higher education during the economic downturn.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said it would be a mistake to cut public and private spending on education and research during the downturn as this could have 'a direct negative impact' on future growth.
He said universities could contribute directly to economic recovery by responding to changing labour-market needs and that investing more money in higher education and research would help Europe emerge from recession more rapidly.
The association will use the decisions of the convention to draft a Prague Declaration of 10 points promoting 'strong universities for a strong Europe' that will outline the action required from European governments and the EC on each count.
The declaration will be based on the principle that university autonomy must be the foundation stone of the sector's response to the growing range of demands from society.
Issues it will cover include widening participation in higher education, boosting research and promoting internationalisation.
The declaration, to be released on Friday by the EUA's governing council, will be presented to Europe's 46 education ministers at a meeting in Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, at the end of next month.