In July, our university was delighted to receive a very special confirmation. It was accepted as a full member of the high-profile university alliance Unite! Unite! stands for University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering and is a network of nine European universities with big goals, stretching from Finland to Italy and from Portugal to Poland, connecting innovative European regions.
The Unite! partner universities of TU Graz are: KTH in Stockholm, Sweden; Aalto University in Espoo and Helsinki, Finland; TU Darmstadt, Germany; Grenoble INP-UGA, France; Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal; UPC Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain; Politecnico di Torino, Italy; and Politechnika Wrocławska, Poland. Together, the nine universities have 280,000 students and 78,000 graduates annually.
“All of these partner universities are old acquaintances of TU Graz,” explains Sabine Prem, the key liaison officer and thus the main person responsible for Unite! at TU Graz. “For us at TU Graz, it was clear from the start that we would apply and only enter into an alliance that would be enriching for all sides. They had to be universities that we know and have already successfully cooperated with.” For example, there has been a strategic partnership with TU Darmstadt for years, projects are running with other universities via the International Office – Welcome Center, and there are research collaborations with all partners. “We are appreciated for what we have already contributed so far,” says Prem, not entirely without pride, “We are very well known in Europe.”
The Unite! activities within the respective partner universities are overseen by the Unite! key liaison officers. Sabine Prem, head of the International Office – Welcome Center, is key liaison officer at TU Graz. As of January, she will be supported by Andrina Dolinsek as deputy key liaison officer. The key liaison officers are the first point of contact in their University and the entire alliance.
For Sabine Prem, TU Graz membership of Unite! is a “logical continuation of the path we began in 2011 with internationalization under Rector Kainz”. In the framework of the internationalization strategy, new measures have been taken and international cooperations concluded, “We have learned a lot and are now fit enough for Unite!,” she emphasizes. But what does “fit for Unite!” actually mean, what is behind this alliance?
Looking back: the birth of Unite!
To create a European education area by 2025, the European Commission launched the European Universities Initiative in 2019. The initiative is based on an idea by the French President Emmanuel Macron, who had proposed establishing European university networks. The European Universities Initiative aims to create a “campus” within Europe, increase student and staff mobility and promote the quality, integration and competitiveness of European higher education.
Following a call from the EU’s Erasmus+ higher education programme in 2019, the first 17 alliances were selected for a pilot phase of three years to lay the foundations for the future European Universities, including Unite!, with the then seven founding partner universities. This was followed by the second call in 2020, which funded 24 more new alliances, as well as additional EU funding under the Horizon 2020 Science with and for Society call to strengthen the research and innovation activities of European universities.
In July this year, Unite! once again secured the support of the European Commission and was awarded funding to continue its work for the next four years. This second funding phase will now start in November 2022 and our university and Politechnika Wrocławska are joining Unite! as new partners. A total of 44 European university alliances will be funded from November. The aim of the European University Initiative is to promote 60 alliances with more than 500 partner universities in the future.
I am looking forward to Unite! because we can work intensively with eight European partners on joint and creative solutions for the future. Maybe in ten years’ time we will all be mobile, leaving borders behind us in one way or another and discovering new perspectives.”
Sabine Prem, key liaison officer
Unite! in focus
Unite! aims to connect science and technology with the grand challenges of society and thus contribute to a new generation of European and global thinking and acting citizens. “Put simply, we want to make our students and our staff fit for the future,” explains Sabine Prem. “We want to train highly qualified and global experts with key competences for digital and sustainable change and we need to provide innovative learning, teaching and research opportunities for this. And we will not succeed in this mighty undertaking alone as TU Graz, but much better together with partner universities.” The visionary goal is one of learning, research, innovation and cooperation with regional partners and in diverse teams across Europe.
Over the past three years, the previous seven partner universities with more than 500 active members (professors, academic and administrative staff and students) have launched the pilot phase. The new phase, which will now start in November and in which TU Graz is now actively involved, builds on the activities and projects already started. In recent years, 27 seminars for teaching staff and scientists, 23 virtual language courses and intercultural awareness training courses have been offered, virtual credit exchange programmes in the fields of energy and architecture as well as four joint Master’s programmes have been set up, international research cooperations have been established as well as the Unite! metacampus (a digital platform connecting the Alliance universities).
Role of TU Graz
In Unite! there are nine work packages, each led by one of the partner universities, which form the framework for other different projects. TU Graz is coordinating Work Package 2 Digital Campus under the leadership of Martin Ebner, head of the Educational Technology OU. Manuela Berner, head of Quality Management, Evaluation & Reporting, is responsible for quality assurance in Work Package 1 Management, Governance & Quality Assurance as co-coordinator.
The entire work packages and their management at a glance: Management, Governance & Quality Assurance (TU Darmstadt); Digital Campus (TU Graz); Inclusion, Diversity & Well-being (ULisboa); Innovative Teaching & Learning (Aalto University); Flexible Education Offer (KTH); Professional Development & Training (Grenoble INP-UGA); Doctoral Education for Research & Innovation and Society (Politecnico di Torino); An Open Innovation Community for the Green Transition (WrocławTech); Strategic Outreach, Impact and Dissemination (Barcelona Tech UPC).
Unite! is noticeable in research, teaching and studies at TU Graz and for the various OUs in various projects and offers and in the development of strategic projects such as joint programmes, joint offers in doctoral studies, in research cooperations and in continuing education. All employees and students of TU Graz can get involved – the spirit of Unite! should develop out of the universities and be carried on within the alliance. Interculturality and linguistic diversity are important aspects of the European network. “The individual universities do not disappear in the alliance, on the contrary, each university, including TU Graz, remains visible with its identity, and European diversity is lived out in Unite!”, affirms Sabine Prem.
How employees benefit from Unite!
The new alliance opens up numerous new opportunities in teaching, research and administration. “Every one of us can benefit from the trans-European exchange and international networking,” says a convinced Sabine Prem. “This alliance benefits us all; it moves us forward. Whether it’s working out joint courses and innovative teaching concepts or forming new research collaborations or acquiring research funding or learning new languages. Within the partner universities, mobilities in general, job shadowing measures, staff weeks and research stays can also be carried out much more easily. All nine partners work closely together, we know and trust each other.”
Daniel Fruhwirt, a researcher at the Institute of Thermodynamics and Sustainable Propulsion Systems, can only agree. Thanks to membership of the Unite! network, he was able to increase his research stay at the partner university Politecnico di Torino from two weeks to two months. Fruhwirt is currently conducting research in Turin under the direction of Romano Borchiellini in the field of energy efficiency and is investigating the safety of underground infrastructure, such as tunnels, with a special focus on the impact of alternative propulsion systems. “I’m doing very well in Turin, my colleagues have made it very easy for me to settle in. The Politecnico di Torino offers excellent conditions and in the course of the 6th Unite! dialogue I was already able to make valuable acquaintances with the other partners in this university network.” The TU Graz institute and the colleagues in Turin have already worked together successfully in the past, and now they would like to intensify their cooperation through Unite! For example, they are trying to establish joint research proposals/projects and also in the area of teaching, joint online courses are planned (in the short term) and joint Master’s and doctoral programmes (in the long term). “My research stay represents the starting point of this collaboration and offers me personally the opportunity to gain experience in international projects (e.g. Turin-Lyon railway tunnel) and to make new contacts,” the researcher says happily.
Unite! opens the gateway to a European campus. You should go through this gateway too, take advantage of the many opportunities this alliance offers and get involved. Membership not only brings access to new teaching and educational programmes, but also opens up new perspectives for international cooperation and funding. You too can benefit from this – become part of Unite! Network with international colleagues, whether digitally or in the form of personal visits. Let’s unite!
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Interview with Martin Ebner
Martin Ebner is head of the OU Educational Technology at TU Graz and coordinates Work Package 2 Digital Campus within the framework of Unite!
What are the plans regarding the Digital Campus of Unite! for the next four years?
They are primarily about the continual development of the metacampus. The metacampus is the existing digital platform that connects all the universities in the alliance and makes the programme and the diverse activities of Unite! accessible. We are not throwing the existing preparatory work and concepts overboard, but are using the work already done as a basis to further accelerate the expansion. The metacampus is a Moodle platform in the background – it has the same technology as our TeachCenter and iMooX platforms. We will contribute our know-how and, conversely, benefit from partners who are responsible, for example, for a uniform login. The aim is that we support digital collaboration, especially in university teaching, and map our joint (teaching) events here.
Can TU Graz employees get involved in the Digital Campus work package?
Of course. We will also call for joint (teaching) events with partner universities after the project has started. We want to create use cases and best practices (e.g. in the area of MOOCs or micro-credentials), which will then serve as a model. And we will adapt the platform to suit the needs of teachers and learners – just as we have been doing successfully for years at TU Graz.
How can TU Graz employees use the Digital Campus?
The metacampus is already online and connected to TU Graz. Simply call up the URL https://metacampus.unite-university.eu and log in with your TU Graz access data. You can find already existing offers there and I would be very happy if someone would contact us for further joint courses (tcnoSpam@tugraz.at). If someone wants to get actively involved, we will support that intensively.