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EUTOPIA community begins ERASMUS+ project together in Ljubljana

Colleagues from all six campuses of the EUTOPIA community came together at Ljubljana Town Hall on the first working day of its ERASMUS+ ‘European Universities’ project, 2 December 2019.

Leaders and friends from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, CY Cergy Paris Université, the University of Gothenburg, the Pompeu Fabra University Barcelona, the University of Warwick, and the University of Ljubljana celebrated what EUTOPIA has achieved so far, and planned its next steps.

The Mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković, welcomed the EUTOPIA alliance members to his office in the heart of the city.

They discussed the network’s co-development of a new model for open and inclusive teaching and research across the continent — as well as the opportunities that will arise for citizens living in EUTOPIA’s six European regions, through shared innovations to tackle real-world issues such as climate change.

At a public roundtable discussion about the benefits and challenges of EUTOPIA being at the forefront of constructing the future for higher education in Europe, Mayor Zoran Janković emphasised the importance of such an alliance for Europe as a whole, suggesting that “it can show us how states can cooperate and stay together.”

In a video message from Brussels, Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport, Culture in the European Commission, affirmed that EUTOPIA is “a true pioneer in higher education and beyond […] a true European community of learning and knowledge.”

She said that EUTOPIA’s six campuses are “living laboratories for research and challenge-based education,” and that the increased mobility of students and staff across Europe will “foster inclusiveness […] encourage the sharing of ideas and talents.”

This, according to Christophidou, is “key to addressing issues like climate change and growing inequality”. She wished EUTOPIA success in its “ambitious long term vision to build the European university of the future.”

EUTOPIA exists to boost the mobility of students, academics, and university staff by testing new methods of cooperative teaching, learning, and working beyond national borders.

Dr Jana Javornik, Acting Director-General of Higher Education, Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, was at the event. She commented on EUTOPIA: “the set-up of the network is really fantastic – it’s like a dream team. Regionally, it is really quite dispersed, as well as diverse. In that respect I think we are looking forward to some really sparkling intellectual knowledge exchange.”

Also attending the public event was Dr Jernej Štromajer, State Secretary for the Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. He said: “we’re really proud that the University of Ljubljana was chosen as the lead partner of this network […] it’s a great opportunity for the future.”

“This is very important for the internationalisation of the Slovenian higher education network, and I think this partnership has a lot of possibilities and opportunities to develop in the future,” Dr Štromajer continued.

Professor Igor Papič, Rector of the University of Ljubljana, stated that “the biggest challenge will now be to start activities that will lead to fulfilling the long-term goal of the alliance being a student-centred European University.”

He pointed out that students have always been at the heart of EUTOPIA, demonstrated by the fact that the first official agreement was signed, not only by six university presidents, but also by also six student representatives.

Furthermore, the aim of the community is “the development of society […] our task is to build bridges between our institutions and our regions, improving life for citizens,” said Professor Papič.

Through collaborative teaching and research, as well as shared innovations, the network will seek to be at the forefront of understanding the emerging fields of artificial intelligence and digitalisation, and harnessing them for the benefit of citizens across EUTOPIA’s six regions.

Professor Luk Van Langenhove, Academic Commissioner for International Networks ad Institutes at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, discussed the role of EUTOPIA in responding to challenges of the twenty-first century, such as the information revolution.

He suggested that one thing research institutions should do is harness the vast amounts of data that exist and “turn it into knowledge, integrating that knowledge into people’s lives.”

Professor Van Langenhove also said that the network of six campuses will seek to become “learning communities”, where people don’t just come to study for a short while and leave, but “use the universities to continue learning throughout life.”

Professor Eva Wiberg, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, agreed with this notion of learning communities, and said that EUTOPIA must strive to ensure that “research and education are integrated, so we can have communities where post-doctoral researchers meet with students to share ideas.”

We must “tackle the challenges of today with both researchers and student together”, Professor Wiberg stated. “This is our opportunity to make higher education better for students”.

“Our shared values are being inclusive, being connected to society, seeing students in the centre, and thinking about innovation and sustainability.

“The presidents and rectors have become friends – we are singing from the same hymn sheet!

“My expectation is that we can reach out to potential students who want to find a relation to education, combined with research and innovation – making higher education better for them.”

Members of the EUTOPIA community will focus on improving the experience of ordinary people throughout the continent – facing significant global and local matters together, like the effects of our ageing populations, cultural diplomacy between nations, the migration of people across the world, and climate change.

Professor Francois Germinet, President of CY Cergy Paris Université, commented “we need projects like EUTOPIA to ensure that there will still be a Europe tomorrow […] universities can catalyse how we bring citizens together, to make sure that Europe remains strong.”

Speaking of environmental sustainability, Professor Germinet said that “EUTOPIA is leading global and European efforts to find solutions to emerging problems […] we have to influence how the European Union and different nations tackle climate change, and lead the way. We have a responsibility for future generations.”

The community, he says, is about “knowledge, research, place-making, mobility, and training European students.”

EUTOPIA’s newly appointed Secretary General, Nikki Muckle, explained that her job will be to connect each partner to ensure the implementation of the presidents’ vision and strategy.

“There are over 120 colleagues across the six campuses working directly on the EUTOPIA project […] it is important that we are developing personal networks, getting to know each other, and working closely at every level – from the presidents, to professional services, to academic staff and students.

“The exciting thing about this pilot is that we, as EUTOPIA, have the freedom to be innovative and to test new methods for higher education that have never been tried before.”

Professor Jaume Casals Pons, Rector of Pompeu Fabra University Barcelona, talked about the ability of students to learn and live across Europe; how EUTOPIA is “doing something bigger than traditional student mobility,” as the network will develop students and graduates who associate themselves with all six campuses.

“If we are strong enough in this, we will have students who feel they belong to all six universities, and that will be new – alumni who have fellow students and colleagues across Europe and the world.”

He commented on the fact that universities sustain culture, saying: “culture is not a veneer for universities, but something that should be central to us. We must integrate our innovation and research into society.”

Professor Stuart Croft, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, spoke about how the EUTOPIA community is “working towards greater integration, so that we can be seen as one truly European University.”

“Our campuses are each connected to our regions – and it is essential that we work with them,” affirmed Professor Croft, discussing the role of the EUTOPIA universities as spokespeople for each region, working alongside businesses, public authorities and cultural organisations.

“As well as each of us having a regional presence, we are all global institutions with partners outside Europe, so we can also introduce our fellow EUTOPIA members to opportunities around the world”.

Professor Croft continued that “universities must be dynamic and innovative” in the fight against significant issues such as climate change, looking at “what we can do together to become smart, sustainable, low carbon campuses – sharing best practice, transforming how universities are managed, and leading the way in terms of how wider society needs to adapt for the future”.

“We need to change the culture of higher education – perhaps universities can encourage nations to agree more with each other,” reflected Professor Croft. “Students and researchers have voices in communities around the world, and we need to be part of that.”

Also on the panel of the public roundtable event was Raymond Samo, student representative for EUTOPIA from the University of Gothenburg. He is excited about the network starting its mission: “it’s very new, very daring, very driven – something that has the potential to release something innovative and inclusive and open, that we have not seen before.”

EUTOPIA, for him, “can open up so many pathways for students – travelling, new ways to study, and tailor-made teaching and learning.”

Raymond made the point that students have knowledge and ideas when it comes to how modern technology can be best utilised, so is happy that EUTOPIA students “have an equal voice in the development of learning platforms that are co-created and co-quality-assured” between the learning community and university management.