The European Consortium of Innovative Universities, ECIU, was founded in 1997 and is the leading international consortium of research intensive universities, with collective emphasis on innovation, creativity and societal impact, driving the development of a knowledge-based economy. The mission is to ‘challenging conventional thinking’ with a focus on ‘innovation in teaching and learning'and ‘entrepreneurship and societal impact of research’.
ECIU University, the first European university where learners and researchers cooperate with cities, regions and businesses to solve real-life challenges, was launched last week in Barcelona. The University of Twente has been selected to coordinate the initiative. UT-employee Sander Lotze has been appointed as the project director.
The official kick-off of the ECIU University was hosted by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, ECIU’s Spanish member. Using its facilities at the Bellaterra campus and the UAB Casa Convalescència in Barcelona, the ECIU University Board met for the first time. Typical new for this university is the participation of representatives of the industry and government in the Board. Onno van Veldhuizen, mayor of Enschede, will be one of them.
The objective of the new international university is to establish a new concept of international university, going beyond regular European collaboration. Education will be based on solving challenges, embedded international mobility and collaborations among universities. Learners will get micro-credentials for short, very specialised training courses, and a competence “passport” which will provide an individualised account of what each student has learned and the skills acquired.
With regard to research and knowledge transfer, a series of living labs will be created in both physical and online spaces where university researchers will work directly with businesses and institutions in the definition and monitoring of projects. Moreover, three Challenge Innovation Hubs will be set up in northern, central and southern Europe. They will be coordinated each by Linköping University (Sweden), Hamburg University of Technology (Germany) and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain).
In this pilot phase the ECIU University focuses on challenges related to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
ECIU University was one of 17 international initiatives selected by the European Commission after a call for European Universities as part of the EU Erasmus+ programme. The project will receive 5 million Euros in funding over three years.
ECIU University was one of 17 international initiatives selected by the European Commission, after it announced a call for European Universities as part of the EU Erasmus+ programme.
All 17 university alliances convened in Brussels on 7 November to discuss the transformative role of the European Universities initiative for higher education.
Tibor Navracsics, European commissioner responsible for higher education, and European ministers responsible for higher education, attended the event.
The ground-breaking ECIU University project aims to respond to the new challenges posed by the evolution of society. "We use this pilot to deepen our collaboration', says ECIU President, Victor van de Chijs during the launch event.
The Students as Change Agents project of the University of Nottingham has won the prestigious European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU) Team Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Carina Neil, Matthew Watts and Dean Lymath received the prize at the special ceremony held at the University of Barcelona on the occasion of the ECIU Board Meeting, last Friday in Barcelona.
The award was given for the inspiring work in enabling Nottingham students to work in partnership with staff to make positive changes to the curriculum and to their experiences there.
Students design their own project to improve teaching and learning. By doing so, not only do the students developing the projects learn a lot, but other students will be positively influenced by the results, thus amplifying the impact on student development. In the last five years, the Students as Change Agents (SACA) team have supported nearly 200 students to become “change agents” who have run over 50 projects which have benefited over 5000 students to date.
SACA has contributed to a culture change in the university enabling greater openness and collaboration between staff and students. By having students involved in the processes of change, it ensures that they are fit for purpose to the modern student.
More specifically, changes that the projects supported by SACA have established the Peer Assisted Study Support scheme to support first year Maths students and develop their interpersonal, communication and fundamental mathematical skills. ‘Students as Change Agents’ is an excellent example of the ECIU slogan ‘challenge conventional thinking’, says the jury report.
The second place was given to the ‘C-lab’ project from the University of Trento. In this project the students work in multidisciplinary teams on entrepreneurial challenges, and alumni have a role in the project as coaches. The central idea in this project has a very strong relationship with the community outside academia; as such it is a very strong learning environment for the students.
The ECIU Team Award is given to the team who have successfully delivered an educational innovation that challenges conventional thinking. This prize has the purpose of promoting, celebrating and disseminating innovative projects in teaching and learning developed by inter-disciplinary groups. It is an initiative of the ECIU members, who share a commitment towards high quality educational practice and who seek to give visibility to exemplary, innovative pedagogical practice.
The applications are available for download on Google PlayStore and is free of charge for Android.
What is ECIU all about?
‘It is a consortium of young universities that share their core values. Innovation and entrepreneurship are in the DNA of our members. We all come from regions where the economy came under pressure following the decline of traditional sectors such as textile and shipping. The universities are the result of a regional need to have highly educated people for the economy of the future and to develop new industries. That is why all partners have very close ties to their region and the industry, while also having an international mindset.’
What does the consortium do?
‘We know each other very well. We learn from each other about governance, the structure of our education and entrepreneurship. We all value mobility and internationalisation and we encourage our employees and students to seek out collaboration. We do that by offering shared minors, joint masters, and travel grants for researchers. Project- and problem-based learning are at the core of the ECIU universities’ education. Students combine theoretical and practical aspects so they are optimally prepared for the world of tomorrow.’
Why is this collaboration so important?
‘We speak with a single voice and protect our interests together, for example in our dealings with the European Union. Universities are hardly heard as a single institution. Instead, they have a voice with impact as a member of a group of likeminded universities. The advantage for policy makers is that they speak to a group of universities across Europe with a long track record in regional innovation, entrepreneurship and innovative teaching. This lobby allows us to put important themes on the agenda and promote our expertise.’
What does the future hold for the ECIU?
‘The world around us is changing rapidly and we face new questions from society and industries. We want to create significant impact on society. That is why we embrace our role as life-long educators. With interdisciplinary research, open innovation and international education we link our universities to society. In ECIU our shared background and values are crucial for our collaboration. We will continue our efforts to make a difference at regional, national and international level.’
With the members we share commitment to the development of high-quality educational practices which promote innovation and the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning. All partners value a strong nexus between research and teaching in order to fulfil such a vision and strive to provide a modern, engaging and research-intensive learning environment, which builds on the diversity and collective strength of our respective institutional cultures, our approaches to teaching, and our students. Like UT, the ECIU has a specific interest in seeking out creative, learning-centred and future-focused teaching approaches that foster social entrepreneurship and smart use of technology.
Network of 14 universities
- Aalborg University
- Dublin City University
- Hamburg University of Technology
- Institut National Des Sciences Appliquées
- Kaunas University of Technology
- Linköping University
- Tampere University of Technology
- Tecnológico de Monterrey
- The University of Nottingham
- Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
- University of Aveiro
- University of Stavanger
- University of Trento
- University of Twente
ECIU offers a variety of different exhange programmes to students and both academic and administrative staff members.
Why go on vacation when work is so much more fun? Within ECIU, supporting staff can go on exchange to other universities. There is even a special Staff Mobility Programme, including local coordinators who can help you out. The programme aims at increasing the mobility among administrative members of staff.
An enriching new experience in a different environment, but also work that’s similar to what you do at your own university. According to Lise Thorup-Pedersen, staff exchange gives you the best of both worlds. ‘It’s a great way to get to know people and practices outside of your own university bubble. More often than not, staff exchange can lead to revelations for both guests and hosts. When you’re visiting another university, you can learn from their best practices. But they can also learn from you as a guest. In a way, it’s a moment for everyone involved to reflect on what they are doing.’
Usually, a stay for one workweek is a kind of sweet spot, says Thorup-Pedersen. ‘As a guest, you don’t want to overstay your welcome. In my ten years’ experience with the Staff Mobility Programme, I’ve learned that one week works best for both parties. Hosts don’t get annoyed by you as a guest and they can prepare a program or project for you to work on. And as a guest, it’s quite well manageable to be away from home for one week.’
Thorup-Pedersen believes that a lot more people within the ECIU network can make use of the Staff Mobility Programme. ‘But I’ve noticed that many people see obstacles that are quite easy to overcome, especially on the practical side of things. Think for instance of language barriers. Or leaving your home, family and possibly pet behind. Don’t be afraid of those obstacles, would be my main message. Communication and expectation management is key, it’ll alleviate any concerns people might have. In the end, staff exchange truly is a rewarding experience for both guests and hosts.’
'I went to Dublin for five weeks, a good experience to see how other people work. For people who want to participate in the program, I would recommend to have a clear goal to work towards or a project you can work on. My visit was mostly focused on online education and distance learning. It became clear to me that preparation is key: scripts have to be written out and you need to make sure that nothing goes wrong on the technical side. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Of course, I loved the city of Dublin. Everyone was very hospitable and kind to me. Because my stay started out with a two-day seminar, it was a great opportunity to get to know a lot of people. I would definitely recommend the program. Suffice to say, make sure you prepare well for your visit. Especially regarding the small practical stuff that easily gets overlooked. That goes for both guests and hosts.’
‘I had a great opportunity to visit the University of Twente and to find out how colleagues are working on activities related to research and innovation projects.'
'I was certainly impressed by their experience and I am eager to visit another ECIU university. These visits can help to combine all the strengths of ECIU members in order to have as much possibilities in R&I project activities and other common fields.'
It really helps to have programs for sharing good practices, in order to combine competences and implement future joint innovative and multidisciplinary projects of ECIU members.’
ECIU launched in February 2018 a Research Mobility Fund, aiming to increase collaboration amongst its researchers. This mobility fund is an incentive for early career researchers to explore and deepen collaboration within the ECIU network.
Asta Pundziene, Vice Rector for Research and Professor at Kaunas University of Technology, is one of the initiators.
What is the importance of a special fund for young researchers?
‘Spreading of diverse knowledge and experience is most of the time a stimulus for innovation. Innovation is within the DNA of ECIU, and as well as in each member university. We perceive the Researcher Mobility Fund as an excellent tool to accelerate knowledge and experience diffusion among the researchers, especially those of early career, resulting with joint research activities that leads to their career advancement as well as breakthrough innovations.’
What do you expect of the fund?
'My personal expectations are very high in terms of the number of researchers applying to the fund, number of the scholar visits as well as the number of joint research initiatives springing from the visits. I also see the Research Mobility Fund as a first step in warming up ECIU member universities research and innovation collaboration, building researchers’ liaisons and networks in identified research areas common to all ECIU member universities. A next step? Designing ECIU support framework for joint small scale or “seed” research and innovation projects, that could become a relevant starting point for greater research and innovation ambitions.’
To Professor Esa Räsänen from Tampere University of Technology, visiting another scientist is the best way to boost a collaboration. In October 2018, he made use of the ECIU Research Mobility Fund and visited his colleague, Professor Philip Moriarty, at the University of Nottingham. As both scientists and avid musicians, they’ve started working together on researching the science of drumming.
What was the reason for your visit to Nottingham?
‘I’ve got to know Professor Philip Moriarty three years ago, when he posted a YouTube video about the science of drumming. In that video, he was also praising our work in Tampere. Since then, we stayed in touch and I was planning to visit him in Nottingham.’
And you thought the ECIU Research Mobility Fund was the right tool for that?
‘Indeed! The possibility was advertised at my university last year. And from a meeting in Brussels, I was already familiar with the ECIU network. To me, this looked like the most optimal tool to meet up with Philip. Applying to this fund was very straightforward and easy, by the way.’
How was your experience in Nottingham?
‘It was one of my personal highlights of last year. I was there for one week in October. In such a short amount of time, we had to make it a very efficient week. Now, we have many ideas for joint publications on the science of music that are likely to get a lot of media attention.’
Sounds interesting, the physics of drumming…
‘It is! One of our main findings was that an audience likes it when drummers make “mistakes”. So, fractal fluctuations in the beats of musical rhythms make the music sound more “human”. Now, we’re taking that idea a bit further and are studying what happens in the brain when someone is drumming. So, the question is: how does information travel from the brain to the hands? What’s fascinating is that Nottingham has a very cool and “hands free” MRI tool – a sort of a hat that still allows you to move around and is able to measure the electronic pulses in the brain. While we in Tampere are strong in numerical and data analysis. That way, we can combine our respective strengths.’
‘Exactly. I love the multidisciplinary approach.’
What are your plans for the future?
‘We have already started to involve students in our project and we hope we can also start sending students to Nottingham. Vice versa, that’s already happening, as the first group of students from Nottingham is visiting us in Tampere already in April. So there’s a clear educational gain that we’re working on. And we also hope that our collaboration leads to more joint publications. In the end, one week in October was a great start, which reminded me that the old school way of visiting someone is great.’
One of ECIU's flagship programme is the Leadership Development Programme. It offers university employees a chance to work on pressing issues that their university faces in an international setting. The programme runs for 13 years and has more than 250 alumni.
The foundation of the Grants Office, a product of the Leadership Development Programme, proves that it is about more than talking and brainstorming.
Rolf Vermeij, head of the University of Twente’s Grants Office, participated in the Leadership Development Programme in 2007. Working on cases is an important aspect of this training programme. ‘These are real issues,’ Vermeij says. ‘Normally, universities keep their problems to themselves, but each participating ECIU university brings a pressing matter to the table: real problems that the organisation struggles with. That gives the whole process more impact. Board members of the participating universities often cannot believe the findings that the programme produces.’
When Rolf Vermeij participated in the programme, the European seventh framework programme for research and innovation had just been launched. Brussels was making more means available, such as the ERC Grants. ‘The UT was looking for new methods to make better use of the opportunities in Europe,’ Vermeij explains. ‘The acceptance rate of research proposals in Europe was too low.’
Vermeij thought this would be a suitable case to discuss during the programme. ‘The session revealed that the UT did not yet have the right expertise to make optimal use of the opportunities in Europe. To achieve more success in Brussels, a more centralised approach was needed.’
Vermeij returned to the UT armed with these findings. ‘We now support researchers with the submission of their research proposals and we established the Grants Office in 2008.’ These measures paid off. ‘In 2010, thirty percent of the ERC proposals were accepted. The acceptance rate is still high today, at circa twenty-two percent. A lot of money is involved: an acceptance from the ERC ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 million euros.’
During the course, Vermeij was part of a mixed group of people. ‘I have a scientific background myself, so I was quite used to working on an international level. That is often not the case for supporting and administrative staff, who also participate in the course. This mingling of the various university departments and the international nature of the course are the programme’s main strengths. Of course, it can be a bit awkward at first. In the end, though, that is exactly the point: overcoming obstacles.’
Harry de Boer and Jon File of the UT’s Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) are the instigators and head lecturers of the Leadership Development Programme.
‘It is like a travelling circus, in the positive sense of the word,’ they say. ‘Every host university selects a project that it wishes to discuss,’ De Boer explains. ‘A university is a complex organisation. Our goal is to bring people closer together. During the LDP, the head of finance will meet a professor of electronics, for example. What connects them all is their interest in leadership at the university. These are people with potential and curiosity.’
A simulation game is part of the course. ‘We act out role-playing scenarios in a fantasy world,’ Jon File says. ‘Say, you are the dean of a faculty and your organisation is losing money. What happens next? We act out that scenario here. This is highly interactive and takes place in a multicultural environment. Things that work here are far less effective in Germany, for example. We also bring in leaders from entirely different corporate cultures. The former director of Grolsch once attended a session. We asked him about the differences between managing a beer brewery and a university.’
The fact that the collaboration that takes place during the LDP is both intense and fruitful is evident from the reunions that are regularly held. ‘Two or three groups still meet up often,’ De Boer says. ‘Those people all became close friends. ECIU strives to build a community and bring universities into contact with each other. The Leadership Development Programme contributes to that goal, which makes it one of the ECIU’s showpieces.’
Since its launch in 2004, nearly 300 employees participated in the Leadership Development Programme (LDP). Every year, six to nine ECIU universities participate. They each send two to four employees to three seminars held at three different partner universities. Most ECIU universities, including the UT, participate every year. In total, 80% of the partners have participated at one time or another.
Besides regular exchange, ECIU offers preconfigured programmes Twin Programmes, Exchange Packages, Joint Master Programmes and Summer and Winter Schools. Students from the ECIU partner universities can make the most of their studies by choosing one of the two available joint masters: Cities & Sustainability or Global Technology and Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship. You study at different universities of your choice.
Malte David Krohn of the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) finished the Global Innovation Management (GIM) master’s programme last year and is now a PhD researcher in Hamburg.
Why did you choose this master?
‘I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and I wanted to do something different for my master. In the end, I chose this programme. I do not regret my decision, although it was not an obvious choice per se. Tuition fees in Germany are very low, which was not the case for the GIM master’s programme. The fact that I still chose this programme proves how motivated I was. It was clear that my fellow students shared this intrinsic motivation.’
What did you do?
‘Half my lectures were in Hamburg. During my second year, I attended the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. The international aspect made this a remarkable learning experience. This programme is not only unique because of the contact you have with other international students, but also because of the broader perspective on innovation management that it instils.’
Would you recommend this programme?
‘Yes. As a PhD, I am now working on the follow-up to this master’s programme, together with five partner universities. This will make the programme even better and more comprehensive.’
Alonso, Guillermo and Saul came all the way from Mexico to Stavanger to study mechanical engineering. They are pioneers in a new, tailor-made exchange programme for ECIU students.
The study programmes are pre-approved and there is no approval process standing between the student and his exciting opportunity to go abroad.
‘The way of teaching is different’, says Guillermo Mortera. ‘Here, you are more independent. You need to decide for yourself whether you go to class or not.’
Saul Rivera enjoyed the close ties between theory and practice. ‘I like that the laboratory work is complementary to theory. I was a bit lost in one course, but when we did the lab exercises, it all made sense and I understood everything.’
In the Steering Committee ‘Entrepreneurship and Societal Impact of Research’ the members focus on sharing best practices for entrepreneurship and interaction with the surroundings and establishing collaboration platforms for innovation and entrepreneurial activities.
An overview is available for the research areas ‘Smart Society’ and ‘Manufacturing 4.0’. The research maps show the strengths of each ECIU member within the specific research area. Another important flagship programmme within ECIU is the RUNIN Project.
Universities are more than ‘just schools’. They are homes to brand-new technologies, clever gadgets, ground-breaking discoveries and tons of knowledge. One of their missions is to contribute all of these resources to the regional industry and innovation. Yet, that isn’t an easy task. The RUNIN project is exploring how universities can be the drivers of local development.
The program trains PhD researchers on how universities contribute to innovation and economic growth in their regions. As one of the involved researchers Ridvan Cinar says: ‘We have many societal challenges at the European level and those aren’t specific to only one region. This large scale project can help us resolve these challenges, because each involved university focuses on a different point of view. There is an enormous amount of knowledge and resources at universities, but they are not tapped into. People in the regions still feel left behind. That is why we need projects like RUNIN.’
RUNIN has a broader approach
‘All the participating universities are interested in contributing to their respective regions, but believe that there isn’t enough information on how to do that. Which is how the idea for the project originated,’ explains Rune Dahl Fitjar, the project leader and a professor at the University of Stavanger. ‘We want to explore many different ways that universities can use to promote regional development. RUNIN has a broader and more interdisciplinary approach than previous research on this topic.’
‘A huge amount of applications’
The RUNIN project involves regional development agencies and seven universities, six of which are ECIU partner universities and it officially started in August 2016, after being initiated by the University of Stavanger. It involves 14 PhD researchers, distributed across the participating institutes. ‘The recruitment of PhD students was very competitive. We received a huge amount of applications,’ says Rune Dahl Fitjar. ‘The selected researchers are getting a different and more extensive PhD education. They will cover eight courses, go on exchanges to different universities and spend a day a week - or an extended period – working outside of the university. This will provide them with a more comprehensive academic training and, after they graduate, allow them to freely decide where they want to work.’
- Aalborg University
- Linköping University
- Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
- University of Aveiro
- University of Stavanger
- University of Twente
- Lincoln University (not a member of ECIU)
ECIU CONTACTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TWENTE
Victor van der Chijs, President University of Twente
ECIU Secretary General
Rolf Vermeij, Liaison Officer
Chair EU Steering Committee
Sander Lotze, Project Director ECIU University
Project Director ECIU University
Member ECIU PR-Group
Wilbert Pontenagel, Open Innovation and Industry Connection, Novel-T
Member steering committee ESIR
Frank van den Berg, Centre of Expertise in Learning and Teaching (CELT)
Member steering committee teaching and learning
EU Group, Research Mobility Fund
Staff Mobility programme
Inge Broekman, Erasmus Coordinator
Leadership Development Programme
The activities in Brussels are coordinated by the ECIU Brussels’ Office and the Steering Committee EU Policy and Research. Head of the ECIU Brussels’ Office is Olga Wessels.
She is the first ECIU staff member to be based in Brussels. Olga Wessels is head of the ECIU office in the European capital, which opened in October 2017. Her objective is to guide ECIU member universities through the European jungle. ‘It is a hierarchical work field, and you need to know your way around.’
In her bright red pleated dress, black jacket and high heels, Olga strikes an elegant figure in Brussels. She leads the way for her guests in an elegant building at the Tervurenlaan. This also is where the Brussels Office of Aalborg University is located. A stately curving wooden staircase leads to the offices, where Olga has her workplace. At present, she is the only staff member of the ECIU office. At the time of our visit, she had been in her new job for only two months, but she was already full of ideas and plans. ‘Ideally, everyone in Brussels will soon know ECIU,’ she says enthusiastically. ‘As a consortium, we are consulted when the European Commission (EC) prepares new legislation for research, innovation and education.’
Wessels’ role is to represent the interests of ECIU in Brussels. ‘There are over 850 universities in Europe. A single university cannot achieve much. That is why twelve universities have joined forces to make their voices heard. For example, entrepreneurship is a high priority for ECIU. Together, we are able to express our wishes in this respect in Europe and make sure we are noticed.’
It is Olga's mission to make sure the message reaches the right persons. She is, therefore, a frequent visitor of the Directorate General (DG) for Education and Culture and the DG for Research and Innovation. The highly hierarchical structure of the European organisation does not daunt her. ‘You need to know your way around and know who to turn to. For example, I can turn to policy advisers with any questions, but sometimes the head of the unit or the director of the DG is the person to speak to. I know many routes and I can provide the ECIU member universities with the right means to do their work properly.’
According to Wessels the time has come for ECIU to send out a joint message. ‘Brexit was a wake-up call for Europe. The EU is re-inventing itself. Everything is changing, and this is the perfect time to make your voice heard.’ She continues: ‘Europe has many old universities. Full of traditions, highly hierarchical, and with a strong focus on fundamental research. Our members are creative universities, unconventional, not afraid of change, and focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. As a consortium we would like to get involved with the policy makers, and express our opinions and points of view. This is a good time, because of the development of the new European programmes for research, innovation and education.’
In a new position paper, the ECIU shares its ideas for the future Erasmus programme. A much stronger outreach component will ensure the impact and relevance of exchange programmes, according to ECIU.
The European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU) believes reaching out to research, industry and society is key. Fostering social entrepreneurship ensures the formation of responsible citizens and strong and inclusive societies. Research-based education, (PhD-) traineeships in industry, support for career offices and local work placements for mobile students are only some ideas (ECIU) shares in its position paper to the European Union.
Other suggestions from ECIU relate to increased flexibility of the programme, better communication and more inclusiveness, digitalisation, the European Universities’ Initiative, increasing the international dimension and more opportunities for staff mobility. To realise Europe’s inclusiveness and educational ambitions, ECIU is convinced that the future Erasmus programme needs at least 90 billion euro, three times that of the Commission’s proposal. ECIU calls upon the EU Member States to help realise this ambition.
The ECIU is a strong supporter of the Erasmus programme, one of Europe’s biggest programme successes. It is a true EU ambassador programme, crucial for implementing Europe’s educational ambitions, developing a strong knowledge economy and strengthening European values and identity. ECIU shares more ideas for the future Erasmus programme in its position paper “Building on Erasmus’ Success” and looks forward to continuing working together with European stakeholders on the future of the European (Higher) Education Area.
More information, and the paper itself, can be found online
For questions or comments, please contact Olga Wessels:
Olga Wessels Head of Brussels Office