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We asked Peter Scholten, the Alliance coordinator, to explain the idea behind the European University, and what UNIC brings to the European Higher Education Area.
What is a European University?
“A European University is an innovative example of how universities can work together on similar challenges and opportunities. The aim of this initiative is to bring together a new generation of creative Europeans to cooperate across languages, borders and disciplines to address societal challenges and skills shortages faced in Europe. Participating in the European University initiative means that our alliance of universities can join forces and take a leadership role in setting the stage for the European Higher Education Area of the future. UNIC structurally connects eight institutions across Europe with a similar identity, a similar commitment to inclusion, impact and mobility, and a similar background as universities in post-industrial cities."
The ‘European University Initiative’ is one of the flagships in the forthcoming European Knowledge & Innovation Programmes. UNIC is one of the 41 EU-funded European University alliances that will test different models of European Universities that will define the European Higher Education Area of the future. If deemed successful by the EU, the UNIC initiative has the chance to evolve further under the next Erasmus programme 2021-2027 and dedicated research and education funding will be made available.
What is UNIC’s focus?
“UNIC strives to make Europe future-proof by creating a transnational network of Universities and cities that will boost inclusion, mobility, and societal impact by providing joint degrees, hosting a virtual campus, and promoting open science culture in our Superdiversity Academy. UNIC opens up unique opportunities for a European learning, teaching and working experience that looks past national borders to connect students, university staff, and the cities in which they live.”
What makes UNIC different?
“UNIC takes an innovative approach to building the university by including students actively in the process and leaving the ivory tower behind in the past. UNIC is about rethinking research, teaching and learning holistically again and considering students not as passive consumers but as emerging scholars and active co-creators in all areas of the university and its surroundings. By putting students at the heart of the university, UNIC will build a university where all students feel like they belong and where they can study effectively.”
By structurally collaborating with international partners, we can share best practices on how European universities can be more inclusive in the long-term, especially in terms of mobility. As student populations grow more diverse, approaching the student journey with a “one-size-fits-all" model is out of date.
“UNIC breaks down traditional barriers that often hold students back, and instead offers building blocks for students to choose and customize their own study path. Our alliance focuses on international mobility opportunities that do not require students to board a plane. Instead, we will foster international collaboration by providing students with our Virtual Campus, a central hub where students can participate in education programmes facilitated by multiple universities.”
Why does UNIC focus on post-industrial cities?
“UNIC is also innovative in its connection with the different partner cities (Rotterdam, Istanbul, Bochum, Liege, Cork, Zagreb, Oulu, and Bilbao). When creating UNIC, we recognized that we were positioned in post-industrial cities, and that this provided a unique environment to create a European University that addresses the big urban challenges of our times.”
UNIC dares to challenge typical university structures and incorporate participation-based experimentation to bring students and societal stakeholders (municipalities, businesses and NGOs) together to solve urban issues. The municipalities of the cities will partner with UNIC to host CityLabs (both a physical pop-up location and virtual meeting platform), which connect students, staff, and researchers with their counterparts at the partner universities to address complex challenges of post-industrial transitions.
“Our societal impact will be far greater when we can learn from and work together with other universities in cities facing similar challenges and opportunities of post-industrial transitions; it will make our students better change-leaders and it will bring in new knowledge and expertise that will help our city to become more resilient. The strides we make with UNIC will provide an innovative example of how universities can work together in these transnational networks.”
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