ECIU, the European consortium of innovative universities that the University of Trento joined a few months ago, was awarded today by the European Commission 5 million funding for three years, in the framework of a call that was part of the Erasmus+ programme.
The purpose of ECIU is to create a European university curriculum that will offer demand-driven, transnational education, tailored to the needs of society and students and within the new European education area.
This sounds like a revolution in university education, as it requires universities to adopt a new teaching approach and to offer structured international mobility. But it also represents a success for ECIU - European Consortium of Innovative Universities, which brings together thirteen universities from different European countries and one Mexican university, Tec Monterrey, participating as associate member.
The challenge that ECIU has taken on by answering the European call is part of a large 60-million-euro pilot programme launched by the European Commission in October.
The submitted projects (to obtain max 5 million euro per project for three years) had to encourage university alliances to strengthen their collaborations and to work towards a European curriculum. The Commission received 54 proposals from different countries to build this "European network of universities".
Today it was announced that ECIU's project is among the 12 projects that will receive funding from the European Commission. The pilot phase will start in November. The new ECIU university aims to offer interdisciplinary and flexible education, tailored to the needs of society and students.
The successful proposal that ECIU submitted to the European Commission is backed by important industrial and business partners. Airbus, Cisco, Intel, Ericsson are already involved, and the University of Trento included local institutions (the Autonomous Province of Trento and the municipality of Trento), and Hub Innovazione Trentino, Confindustria Trento, Information Engineering and Novartis – Sandoz Industrial Product Spa.
Sustainable cities and communities: the core of ECIU's project
All proposals had to focus on one of the sustainable development goals identified by the United Nations. ECIU's member universities decided to concentrate on goal 11: sustainable cities and communities, a strategic theme for the areas where the member universities are located.
ECIU's proposal highlights the cornerstones of the new European university: orientation to the needs of society and businesses, strong interdisciplinarity, variable duration of studies, physical and virtual mobility as a requirement, innovative programmes and research. And it develops in concrete steps: adoption of non-aggregated courses with a "micro-credit" system structure; creation of a European platform where students and researchers, with institutions, companies and citizens, can collaborate to find innovative solutions; establishment of pop-up laboratories to test and innovate teaching and research practices; ideas to enhance mobility among universities. To facilitate relations among the members, three Challenge Innovation Hubs were set up (north: Linkoping, centre: Hamburg, south: Barcelona).
"The novelty in this pilot educational programme lies in the close collaboration with stakeholders, that is public and private organizations", explained rector Paolo Collini. "The idea of an interuniversity European campus is very close to our idea of a university for the future: it is a complex structure that requires collaboration at international level. But ECIU's members have the resources and the optimal strategic position to network and become the testing ground for such a project. What struck us in this network of universities is their efforts to build strong relationships with local businesses and communities. And this is a subject we care about and one that makes us want to do more and better".
"There are many factors at play to make this project a reality", added Maurizio Marchese, prorector for international development. "We must work at different levels to create a tailored European curriculum for every student, offering an innovative pedagogical approach, structured mobility within Europe and interdisciplinarity. And mobility must be increased and extended to the staff of the participating universities".
The ECIU network
The University of Trento has recently become a member of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities – ECIU, a network of thirteen young research intensive universities, of small-medium size, with an international attitude, innovation-oriented quality and research, great ICT and social science programmes and a strong commitment to entrepreneurship. This rather young network, founded in 1997, is growing in popularity especially at European level, because it is seen as an ideal setting to explore new directions in innovation applied to higher education and research. The fact that these universities are far from Europe's major cities is their point of strength, is what made them establish connections locally and invest in innovation and pilot projects to test best practices. They are more dynamic and inclined to networking than larger, traditional universities, and were able to contribute positively to the European debate with cutting-edge ideas and projects.
The thirteen members of ECIU are of the same size, are internationally-oriented, focus on quality and innovation in teaching, believe in research and teaching in ICT and social science, have a strong commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship. They are: Aalborg University (Denmark), Dublin City University (Ireland), Hamburg University of Technology (Germany), Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania), Linköping University (Sweden), Tampere University (Finland), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico, the only non-European member), the University of Nottingham (England), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), University of Aveiro (Portugal), University of Stavanger (Norway), University of Trento (Italy), University of Twente (the Netherlands).
The mission of the consortium is to challenge conventional thinking in three areas. First of all, ECIU aims to innovate teaching and learning through the development of high quality educational practices. Secondly, as regards entrepreneurship, the consortium aims to increase the societal impact of research and to facilitate collaboration with the industrial sector through programmes that respond to stakeholders' demands. Thirdly, ECIU aims to participate in EU policy and research by promoting joint activities to support research projects through European funds and to bring the point of views of universities in European institutions.
The consortium is very well structured and every partner university has different working groups made up of teaching and administrative staff that focus on specific themes. Mobility will be increased for students, teaching staff and technical-administrative staff, and programmes will be designed to facilitate exchanges among the thirteen universities, including for short periods.
A video on ECIU can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/321068392