See ECIU University

For business and society

What is in it for you?

Complexissues require a multi-disciplinary approach

Smart ideas for current and future complex, social and industrial issues around the themes of digitisation, mobility orcirculare economy are not up for grabs. They call for a creative, broad-basedand often interdisciplinary approach in which the human dimension is just asimportant as the technological possibilities. The challenge-based learning approach of UT provides for this.

Students from various programmes at the University of Twente have been working on such issues, often from paper, for some time now. Challenge-based learning makes it easier for student teams to co-operate actively with public and private parties which are referred to as challenge partners or challenge providers. Better and well-considered concepts emerge. Marike Boertien from Novel-T is involved in this. ‘I think it is cool to see the chemistry between the challenge partners and the students develop. For example, they spend one hour each week sparring about the concepts. A a result, a special bond develops between both parties.’

As a UT lecturer, Raymond Loohuis is enthusiastic about CBL and is closely involved with ECIU University, a new alliance of European universities of which UT is a partner and where challenge-based learning is at the educational heart. ‘We see challenges as an opportunity to build a long-term relationship with parties outside UT.’ Boertien adds: 'We would like to show that we are developing new ways of working together, in addition to regular research and education. If you have an issue, we will look at it and see what opportunities are there for collaboration with students. In this way, UT is easily accessible and we would definitely like to get in touch with challenge partners.’

Actively getting to work 

Boertien:‘If you have an issue, we will discuss it together first. Then we will match itwith the right place in education and describe the issue in a challenge. We therefore ask the challenge partner to adopt an active attitude. Students need a lot of background information, because the issues on which they work are complex, often on a conceptual level. Collaboration involves regular sparring. We often see students 'swim around' first. After that, they have a lot of questions. And these questions are directed at the challenge partners: how would they solve this? Students and challenge partner acquire all kinds of knowledge and a firm collaboration between the parties develops.'

  • What are we going to do?

    As of February 2021, selected student teams consisting of 3 to 5 students will work on issues and ideas brought in by companies or institutions. Then the challenge will be defined precisely. During 4 to 15 weeks, the teams will work on the challenge in close collaboration with the participating parties ,in order to come up with ideas. Specially trained teachers will support them in this process, coming from different, relevant disciplines. 

  • What do we need?

    To get off to a flying start, we are looking for regional (SME) companies or institutions that want to contribute actively to the students' learning process and are looking for fresh ideas for complex issues.

  • Why should you participate?

    As a participating external party, there are numerous advantages to get involved in this challenge-based learning project. Some of them are:

    - having immediate access to and benefit from unique knowledge that is developed during the learning process;

    - gaining direct and early contact with our students;

    - getting to know the University of Twente and the twelve European partner universities of ECIU University in an accessible way;

    - being part of UT's international partner network, as well as other national and international operating companies and European knowledge institutions;

    - employees of companies or institutions developing important skills and gaining knowledge through their efforts during the learning process with student teams and UT staff

  • What do we ask?

    The most important things are: an open mind and some time for interaction. In addition, you will be involved in a current challenge, which will consume on average 2 to 4 hours per week during the course of 4 to 15 weeks by means of active sparring with the student teams. Active involvement will consist of, for example, providing information and feedback on proposed interim solutions and a final evaluation

  • More info

    More information: Marike Boertien ( or Raymond Loohuis (


The core of the ECIU University is the challenge-based approach – a model where learners, teachers and researchers cooperate with business and society to solve real-life challenges. The challenge is provided by a city, region or business stakeholder in cooperation with the partner universities. The University of Twente presented the following challenges in colaboration with business and society.

  • UT challenges
    • Creating societal business models for new Energy Gardens


      Solar energy plays a key role in the transition towards a fullysustainable energy society. One of the options is to develop fields with solarpanels. These solar fields tend to be monotonous and focused on only onefunction: delivering solar energy, but have the potential to provide a lotmore.

      The Natuur en Milieufederaties (the DutchNGO Federation for Nature and Environmental Protection) wants to explore addingnew functionalities to these solar fields. Think of, but not limited to,increasing biodiversity, recreational possibilities, educational options, innovativefieldlabs and citizen engagement in the energy transition. To do so, theylaunched a project to develop “Energy Gardens” ( These nature inclusive solar parks provide both economic value(through energy production) and societal value (through multiplefunctionalities).  This requires a societal business case where sustainability, ecologyand business models coexist.

      Expected impact

      The work of the students will lead to an overview of new societalbusiness models that can be used to financially support societalfunctionalities in Energy Gardens. This stimulates solar park developers toconsider multiple functionalities in their solar parks, increasing biodiversity,enhancing citizen support for these solar parks in particular, and for theenergy transition in general.

      Target group

      The target group consists of professional solar park developers, localgovernments who set rules and regulations for solar parks, local citizen groupswho benefit from the social functions, energy cooperatives who take part insolar park development. 

      Our challenge

      However, when these functionalities are added, more ground surface is needed. This means less energy production per square meter. Yet, the (commercial) solar park developer generally aims for maximal return on investment. However, the Natuur en Milieufederaties is convinced of the societal added value of multiple use of these areas. This calls for creative ideas to generate additional financial value for societal benefits. The federation challenges you to develop innovative ideas which contribute to a sustainable societal business case. This calls for creative minds. The pilot projects are going to be realized, so you will work on real projects. If in the end you prove our existing concepts for energy gardens are not societal profitable, we challenge you to develop better concepts.

      Target group

      The target group consists of professional solar park developers, localgovernments who set rules and regulations for solar parks, local citizen groupswho benefit from the social functions, energy cooperatives who take part insolar park development. 

      Interested? Apply at the challenge platform of ECIU University.


      The challenge partner Sander Lowik 

      ‘As challenge partner, I will introduce you to our world, knowledge base and challenge. I’m looking forward to your ideas and solutions and we will learn from it. I’ll provide you with existing information and help during the challenge. I am based at the Brabantse Milieufederatie, which is a non for profit organization, founded in 1972,  that promotes in many ways the sustainable future of the region of Brabant. It cooperates closely with citizens and is independent from politics, religion or societal colour. Besides, I work part-time for the nation wide operating umbrella organization as program coordinator Energy Gardens’

      The challenge provider

      The Natuur en Milieufederaties is the umbrella organization of the 12 Dutch provincial non for profit federations for nature and environmental protection. The Brabantse Milieufederatie is one of these 12 provincial federations. The umbrella organization holds the rights for the Energy Garden concept and aims to show how the energy transition and biodiversity can go hand in hand.

      The Student Groups

      The challenge might be attractive for students in engineering, design, business and sustainability studies. At least one Dutch speaking student should be on the team. We offer to support 1 student team. The challenge is suitable for a ‘standard’ challenge within ECIU-U.

    • Resilient Communities for healthy living


      Care costs increase exponentially because of demographic changes and costly innovations in highly specialized cure and care. 

      There is an increasing mismatch between the available workforce on the one hand and the need for professional workers in healthcare and industry on the other. 

      Technology might bring relief in the above strain, especially if targeted services and products can be provided. 

      SME’s are experiencing difficulties to bring their innovative products and services to implementation. Market entry and market access is challenging. Involvement of end-users, informal care givers and society-based organizations and communities might open new opportunities; ICT developments might offer solutions but also cause issues in safety and security (fraud, digital security in personal data) 

      In semi-urban regions, there is a need to create resilient (business) communities where SMEs collaborate on innovation and skills and where government and healthcare institutions work together to maintain service levels; 

      Problems in youth care and prevention of (youth) drug addiction are facing under exposure in the care industry.

      Our challenge

      Our challenge is to develop effective ‘quadruple helix’ based innovation communities for health care in semi-urban regions. Engage society through Citizen Science and Citizen Labs where people are empowered to improve their healthy lifestyle and where people-driven healthcare systems can grow.  The integral approach will lead to highly personalized and early intervention-centered solutions in healthcare technology and people’s life style in the full spectrum of health, from prevention and early detection, to targeted treatment and self-management of disease. 

      Expected impact
      The impact should be to safeguard at least two more healthy life years for all citizens.

      Target groups

      • Care users (citizens)
      • SME’s (professionals) 
      • Local and regional government (policy and governance)
      • Care institutions (health care professionals)
      • Health Care Insurance Companies
      • Universities/ Research centres (students)

      Interested? Apply at the challenge platform of ECIU University.  

      Deadline for applications : 2020-12-31

These challenge providers preceded you

  • Social welfare organisation Impuls
    • "Two heads are better than one"
      The challenge: How can technology provide more wellbeing?

      Impuls (Oldenzaal) is a welfare organisation for the region where issues from society are picked up. Impuls poses the following questions: (a) how can consumer technology provide in more wellbeing, safety and self-reliant for (frailty) elderly? (b) how can they be more connected? (c) which consumer technology can provide all that and more? (d) how can an informal network be formed, where informal caretakers are getting a signal from consumer technology when someone is in need of help? Impuls invites students to think along and explore ideas and possible solutions for this problem.

      Challenge provider: Impuls

      The entry submitted to the Autumn Challenge by Impuls, a social welfare organisation from Oldenzaal, was a challenge about combining care with technical innovation. ‘Participation broadens your horizon’, says Alice ten Dam, Impuls director.

      Why did Impuls take part in the Autumn Challenge?

      ‘There were two reasons. I feel it is important that - as an organisation - we focus our efforts on external aspects too, and the topic of technology had been part of our work for a while already. Social workers are not naturally attuned to technology; they are wired for personal conversations and face-to-face visits. However, this current time of crisis and our sector’s labour market shortage mean that examining the technical possibilities is an interesting prospect for us.’

      What was the remit of the Impuls challenge?

      ‘Elderly people have the option to use a personal alarm - a necklace or a bracelet with a push button. When pushed, the assistance control room receives a notification and care is provided. Experience proves that almost 70 percent of the alarm notifications are of a non-medical nature. There are alarms for lost spectacles, or to check that the device is actually working. How can we utilise the social environment here? And how can this be arranged in view of access to the home, in other words: the keys? It seemed a good idea to let the Autumn Challenge ponder these questions and create some input.’

      How was the collaboration with the students?

      ‘Good, we were in contact on a weekly basis. Two heads (or more) are better than one. I did have ideas, but there may be better ideas or new insights along the way. My expectations? I don’t really have any - anything is a bonus. Impuls often welcomes interns. We have a lot of experience with students and we are somewhat familiar with how it works.’

      How did the challenge benefit you?

      ‘It is interesting to hear about the way other countries approach care of the elderly. Or not, because families share a home. A question emerged from our challenge: how do elderly people personally feel about the alarm system, and what do they want from it? This was a good point, and as a result we carried out a survey among 330 people. We received almost 90 responses. This was a great boost for the students. We had beaming faces on our screens.’

      Would you take part again?

      ‘I don’t know if I would take part in a time not marked by the coronavirus, actual meetings in person in particular would take up time. The digital meetings are manageable. I would favour a combination of both, and maybe my colleagues would get on board.’

      What advice would you give a potential challenge provider?

      ‘Participation broadens your horizon. You will probably also come across viewpoints and ideas that have been examined before, you have to accept that. But there are different routes you can take and you have be receptive to those.’

  • Gemeente Enschede
    • "It's good to walk this path together"
      The challenge: Micro-level citizen participation

      For years, the municipality of Enschede has been trying to realise micro-level participation. The municipal government is interested in the manner in which different forms of community-based engagement at the micro level can function in the city. In Palo Alto, Enschede's partner city, community-based empowerment is supported via the Cool Block programme; a way to stimulate citizen participation with regard to safety, security, environmental sustainability and resilience. What is the need for community-based empowerment in Enschede? What are other good practices such as the Palo Alto example?

      Challenge provider: Malu Hertzdahl, administrative-legal adviser at the municipality of Enschede.

      What is it like to work with students? “I am positively surprised by the students’ drive and interest,” says Malu Hertzdahl, administrative-legal adviser at the municipality of Enschede and one of the people involved in the programme. “Participants read background material, they are willing to explore our standards and values and we are making progress with regard to the challenge. That is all wonderful to see.”

      This is not the first time that the municipality of Enschede has collaborated with educational institutions. Why is this so important to you? “I am a major proponent of this approach. The five students taking part in the programme chose this challenge themselves. They are highly motivated. They all have different educational and cultural backgrounds, which brings enormous added value to the table. It allows you to examine an issue from vastly different angles. For example, the team includes a student of psychology who can explain the intricacies of behaviour - active citizenship in our case. What drives citizens to be active in the first place? Does the culture play a part in that? We are now able to study these aspects.”

      What were your expectations beforehand? “I did not really have any expectations. I jumped in with an open mind. If the outcome of the programme is a list of critical success factors, we will be happy with that. More than that, I love seeing the students learn, work together and interact with their ‘client’ and how I can learn from them in turn. It is good to walk this path towards an unknown destination together.”

       What would you like to say to other interested parties? “Make sure your challenge is up to date. It has to be truly relevant to ensure you can make a real difference with the results.” 

    • "It opens up a new world"
      The challenge: the circular city

      The realisation of a circular economy is a hot topic at the European, national and provincial level. The municipality of Enschede is in need of a strategic policy to help with the transformation towards a circular economy. In recent years, the municipality has been successfully working to improve its waste collection processes and it has formulated sustainability and circularity criteria that are used during purchasing and tender procedures. However, there is no overarching strategy in place regarding the facilitation of the municipality’s collaboration with businesses and their networks. With this challenge, the municipality wants to explore the best practices that are available within and outside the Netherlands and the possible scenarios with regard to the municipality’s own role.

      Challenge provider:Dayenne Smolders, Director International Affairs at the municipality of Enschede.

      What is the added value of collaborating with international and multidisciplinary student teams?“Above all, it is fun and educational to view a challenge from different perspectives,” says Dayenne Smolders, Director International Affairs at the municipality of Enschede and involved in the programme. “The students have a critical outlook, which helps prevent tunnel vision and is quite inspiring to boot.”

      Can you explain that?“They all come from different countries. This means the students also get to learn from each other. For example, a Finnish student talked about the fully sustainable residential neighbourhoods that are being built in their country - much to the amazement of the others. A student from France explained that their country does not have a deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles. This teaches students that a system that works well in one country is not necessarily successful in other countries as well.”

       When are you satisfied?“I am happy with the results thus far. The team is conducting a thorough analysis of the latest European developments with regard to the circular economy. They are providing new insights and forming a wonderful dynamic between entrepreneurs, students and the municipality.”

       What would you like to say to other potential providers?“Do it! This approach prevents tunnel vision. You might be hesitant because the whole thing s in English, but it's not as bad as it seems. We just have to do it. We desperately need this ollaboration and it opens up a whole new world.”

    • "Work on real challenges"
      The challenge: The creative city

      Enschede is bursting at the seams with creative talent. Nevertheless, it is not really seen as a creative city. The municipality of Enschede wants to change that. Its ambition goes beyond the cultural aspect and also concerns the creation of the right ecosystem within which creativity and innovation can thrive. That, in turn, will result in an attractive living and working environment. Cities with a strong creative class are more robust and resilient.

      How can we develop a creative city? What are the key wishes and needs to take into account? What are the best practical examples to follow and the biggest challenges to look out for? What are the underlying principles and how can these be applied within the context of Enschede? How can a local government affect this transition?

      Challenge provider: Arjan Beerman, Director City Marketing / Senior Communication Advisor at the municipality of Enschede.

      What did you expect when you started this journey? “It is often said that students have all the answers. Since I work with students a lot, I know that this is not always the case. What is true, however, is that the small and surprising insights they provide form the building blocks for the bigger picture.”

      Can you give an example of that? “Three ideas really stuck with me. Take the scenario-based product design course, for example. We presented a challenge that had to do with city marketing. A group of students presented Enschede as a character. It was a really fun and ingenious way to illustrate how a city would behave if it were a person. I was also pleasantly surprised during Create Tomorrow (the world's largest student think tank). A team came up with the idea that Enschede should be a carbon-negative city. By choosing to live in Enschede, people would contribute to a better world. That is a fantastic proposition. Another group suggested that we should become known as the remote workforce capital of Europe by the year 2040. By then, the need to be physically present in the office will be all but obsolete, so why not live in a wonderful green environment? At the time, we had no idea of what was in store for us or that working from home would become the new normal quite so quickly.”

      What can you say about your collaboration with the students? “It is a highly diverse group. The team includes people with a background in rocket science, data analysis, psychology and marketing. At this point, however, I cannot say too much about the added value of this diversity.”

       Would you recommend this programme to others? “I celebrate this initiative and would certainly advise interested organisations to take the leap. However, it is important to make sure that you work on real challenges rather than fictitious problems. Otherwise, it would just be a waste of time.”

The challenge-based approach explained

  • Pose a challenge

    Learners all around Europe are asking to obtain relevant and state-of-the-art knowledge and skills in order to solve global challenges. Learners, researchers, industry and society can pose challenges on the ECIU University platform where challenges are listed according to the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.

    The challenges will be worked out by teams in which learners and employees from industry and society will work together, supported by training teams of teamchers.

    During the project, the team members notice that they lack certain skills to continue the project. Therefore, they take micro-credentials which are offered by all ECIU universities. They can range from online courses to study packages at a university to summer schools to research projects.

    After the successful completion, all learning will be documented in a European competence passport. Micro-credentials, as well as all skills obtained through the project are listed in the passport and can be renewed and complemented at any time. Every challenge ends with a specific outcome, which can be spin-offs, new research questions, new challenges and most importantly a better and more sustainable world.