Linguistic diversity, intercultural competences & European identity

Are you a Bachelor, Master or PhD student in the fields of Education, Humanities or Social Sciences?

This unique opportunity suits you!

The University of Naples Federico II, University of Innsbruck, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, and Palacký University Olomouc, participated in the first Blended Intensive Programmes (BIP) call for applications and received funding for the course “Linguistic diversity, intercultural competences & European identity”.

Visit the Course Catalogue to find out more.

Aurora thanks former Vice-Chancellor of UEA, Professor David Richardson

The Aurora community would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to one of the founding fathers of the Aurora Network, Professor David Richardson. Professor Richardson has been a pillar of the Aurora community and has played a vital role in the development of the Aurora Universities Network since its creation in 2016. Although he stepped down two weeks ago as Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, and therefore no longer represents his institution as a Board member of Aurora, his legacy and impact on Aurora remains strong beyond his tenure.

Professor Richardson has an impressive Aurora record of service. The University of East Anglia (UEA), under Professor Richardson’s leadership, was one of the founding institutional members of the network. He was also the Chair of the Aurora Board for four years from 2016-2020, and was recently re-elected again in 2022, serving as Board Treasurer. His belief in the added value of Aurora never wavered, including during the challenging period leading up to Brexit and the resulting changes this meant for higher education in the UK in the area of international cooperation and mobility. Despite these challenges, UEA remains committed  to the Aurora Alliance as an Associate Partner in the new funding bid for the Erasmus+ European Universities Initiative.

“It has been a pleasure to work with David Richardson ever since we first started discussing establishing a new university network in 2016,” Aurora President Jón Atli Benediktsson states. “The Aurora Network thrived under his leadership and dedication. David was a strong supporter of Aurora expanding and applying to become one of the European University Alliances as he recognized the tremendous opportunities this would provide for our students, staff, and wider community.

David is a great friend and working with him has been a privilege. We very much appreciate his contribution to Aurora.”

Mirjam van Praag, President of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said:

“As one of the founding fathers of Aurora, David is a long-time and dear friend to us. He excelled in keeping us all on track, from the start of the Network through the phase of forming the Alliance. With him on board, the road ahead was suddenly clear for everyone, redirecting us to more productive alleys whenever we went astray, looking at issues from a new angle, and all of that he seemed to do effortlessly.”

As the Aurora community, comprised of ten research-intensive universities, continues to strengthen our international cooperative partnership, we will carry forward Professor Richardson’s legacy through our continued commitment to academic and research collaboration, innovation in teaching and learning, positive student development and transformation.

Revisiting the future of European R&I programmes

After reflecting upon the past Horizon 2020 programme and the first two years of Horizon Europe, Aurora Universities Network comes up with eleven recommendations to improve the current R&I programme and develop the next framework programme FP10.  The recommendations include:

  • A swift association of the UK and Switzerland to Horizon Europe;
  • An improved global approach and more possibilities for international collaboration when dealing with global challenges;
  • Advanced cohesion and integration between EU programmes including Horizon Europe, Erasmus+, EU4Health, LIFE, and Digital Europe;
  • A better embedding of citizen engagement and co-creation (not only in R&I programmes but using the example of missions also in all other EU programmes);
  • More cohesion in innovation grant schemes; and
  • More cohesion between ESIF and HEU by using the ERDF budget for structural national investments in R&I in Widening countries (where needed) and a focus on a limited number of Widening grant schemes in Horizon Europe to improve scientific excellence.

The full eleven recommendations can be found in the position paper (link below). In addition, any European R&I programme needs sufficient funding to accomplish our tasks as universities and the broader R&I sector to contribute to achieving global and European challenges. The current geopolitical situation and the war have led to increased costs of living. To fulfil our role in science and society, we emphasise that a budget of 200 billion euros for FP10 is needed. Furthermore, we agree with the European Parliament that Horizon Europe funding for research should not be funnelled or repurposed to other, or new, priorities than those initially set.

In addition, we argue against grant mechanisms that ask for co-financing or matching from academic or RTO organisations as this needs to be charged to the structural public financing of our organisations (and hence the permanent staff, infrastructures, and education). In principle, public universities do not have large budgetary envelopes that can be spent freely.  In fact, universities are facing budget cuts due to increased prices and/or reduced numbers of students. The risk is that the academic sector will withdraw completely from such grants.

Read our full position paper here.

Aurora represented at high-level meeting with European Commissioner

Martin Procházka, the Rector of Palacký University in Olomouc and member of Aurora’s Board of Presidents, represented Aurora in an international meeting in Brussels, organised for the rectors of the 44 current European University Alliances and Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. The agenda of the two-day working meeting included many discussion topics, in which the leaders of European universities focused mainly on moving forward the transformational potential of European university alliances, the European Strategy for higher education, the legal status of Alliances, European degrees, and micro-credentials.

Rector Procházka used his participation in this event to share Aurora’s state of play and best practices following the excellent mid-term review and Aurora’s priorities moving forward as part of the next bid that has been recently submitted. He also tabled the importance of fostering more cross-alliance cooperation as part of the EUN framework.

The panels and discussions with the Commissioner stressed the long-term importance of European University Alliances in both the eyes of the European Commission and the participating universities, with Commissioner Gabriel expressing the Commission’s commitment to European University Alliances until at least 2030. Looking back at the event, Commissioner Gabriel called European Universities “drivers for change” and sees continued support of these alliances as a strategic investment.[1]

“There are now nearly 44 alliances, with hundreds of universities organised within them. The debate was, of course, about how Europe will approach its in the future and what should be the long-term common strategy of our universities to compete with American or Asian universities. We also talked about whether, for example, in the future, one common diploma should be issued to graduates across the alliance universities, whether fifty percent of students and fifty percent of teachers should go to partner universities as part of mobility, etc.,” rector Martin Procházka described the course of the meeting, adding that another key topic was the possible further support of European university alliances, the financing of which by the European Commission is planned until 2029.

[1] Tweet Mariya Gabriel

Re-elected as Aurora President: A new phase for Aurora with enhanced opportunities in education and research

Professor Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland, has been re-elected as President of Aurora.  On the occasion of his re-election, he shared a statement in which he expressed his confidence in the growth of the collaboration and the opportunities it creates for students, faculty, and the wider Aurora community. You can read the full statement below:

We are now entering a new phase with the new bid for the Aurora European University Alliance’s continued funding. After seeing the hard work and dedication of the staff and students at our universities, I am confident that the Aurora collaboration will grow and create more opportunities for our students, faculty, and the greater community.
I am honoured to lead this partnership of committed universities and I look forward to working closely with our newest member, Université Paris-Est Créteil. The work ahead creates opportunities for increased research collaboration as well as further development of joint courses and degrees, effective teaching methods and student engagement.

We have learned many things since the founding of the Aurora network in 2016, and even more so with being selected as one of the European University Alliances.  We can use that knowledge to streamline our work, apply lessons learned, identify the major challenges ahead of us, and proactively address them by improving and aligning our strategies across the Aurora universities.

We are now looking ahead. Initially, we were only awarded three years of EU funding, and now we hope for four more years of funding, but our work will undoubtedly extend beyond that. However, it is difficult to address fundamental changes in higher education and the ways our universities operate without the certainty of long-term funding. We will approach this by looking at multiple ways to secure the sustainability of our collaboration.

We will also look into ways to work closely with more partners, both within Europe and globally. There are exciting opportunities for collaboration with universities in the Global South as well as universities in North America, such as the University of Minnesota. At the same time, there are devastating times for our associate member university in Ukraine, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, which we continue our collaboration by any means possible.

With both challenges and opportunities ahead of us, we will stay focused on our mission to enable our students with the skills and mindset needed to drive societal change and address global challenges.

University of the Future – Pedagogical Developments in Aurora

AURORA is a network of European research universities working towards creating universities of the future with systematic pedagogical development and innovation to meet current societal challenges.

Aurora aims to graduate students with the competencies and mindset necessary for future generations to thrive in ever-changing communities and a dynamic labour market.  Emphasis is, furthermore, placed on students acquiring entrepreneurial and innovative skills, thus developing the mindset and drive needed to tackle the numerous societal changes the world currently faces.

Do you want to participate in the University of the future?

“The Aurora collaboration is an ambitious project that has been under development for years. The first phase of the project is been characterised by a lot of work on behalf of the universities staff; administrative and academic alike, to align processes in different institutions and find common ground for university collaboration,” says Sandra Berg Cepero, Aurora project manager at the University of Iceland’s Division of Academic Affairs and Task Team leader for Teaching for Societal Impact. Teams were formed and collaborative projects were defined. Sandra says that the next phase in the collaboration will revolve more around the substance, the actual work of creating Aurora courses, creating academic connections between the universities, and work- and pedagogical development among the teaching staff. Emphasis will also be placed on promotional material on educational vision and Aurora’s ideals. “Teaching staff is encouraged to keep abreast and can always contact me (sandra@hi.is) if they are interested in Aurora’s pedagogical development or even participate in creating Aurora courses, joint study programmes, or other exciting opportunities this collaboration entails.”

Aurora’s educational vision in teaching and learning

The collaborative platform will be digital and, first and foremost, based on a virtual campus where students and staff will have mobility in various fields in diverse forms. Teaching and learning will be executed in the platform, simplifying the design and development of joint courses and degrees in line with the Aurora ideal. To realise its ideals, Aurora has created an educational vision to follow that supports both its goals and execution.

The Aurora educational vision is based on four main pillars; the UN Sustainable Development Goals, pedagogical development, students’ competencies, and the internationalisation of study programmes, and the network universities are supposed to:

  • Tackle societal needs and challenges and find research topics across traditional academic boundaries of disciplines.
  • Implement student-centred and inclusive learning – and teaching methods
  • Strengthen students’ educational and personal competencies as well as academic ones
  • Use internationalisation in education to enhance the quality in education and student competencies

University of the future

Aurora is comprised of ten universities. Diverse institutions in design and operation see the benefits of joining forces for societal impact and making use of progress in technology to strengthen education, teaching, and research. Thus, the universities’ staff can learn about new teaching methods, participate in events abroad, attract international students to their courses, and find European collaborators in research and teaching.

The University of Iceland has been active in the network since its founding in 2016. One of its focuses has been increasing diversity in study selection and strengthening collaboration and innovation in teaching and learning. This is manifested in courses offered by some universities but open to all Aurora university students. Teaching staff at the University of Iceland has, furthermore, had the opportunity to attend Aurora workshops in pedagogical development, an important opportunity for career development. “These teaching methods and tools will provide opportunities for pedagogical development with societal changes as the driving force, using modern course design and teaching with internationalisation at the core,” concludes Sandra.

Students wrap up the Autumn semester 2022

Student blog written by: Alma Ágústsdóttir, Aurora Student Council President

When the Aurora Student Council, comprised of student representatives from all Aurora universities, was originally formed in the early days of the Aurora Network, Aurora immediately identified student engagement as one of its key priorities. Through the years, cross-institutional student cooperation has grown, deepened and morphed through several small and large-scale changes, such as the creation of the Aurora Alliance. Still, student engagement remains at the very core of Aurora’s identity.

Throughout the years, the Student Council has increased the number and variety of opportunities that students are offered regarding engagement within Aurora. We have hosted open workshops and participated in projects such as Design Thinking jams and seminars (which are promoted on social media and mass emails), courses at other Aurora universities where the credits gained count towards your degree at your home university, and cooperative projects spanning an entire academic year, such as the Student Schemes. In addition to all that, the Aurora Student Council is deeply ingrained into Aurora’s governance structure and works continuously on cooperative projects near and dear to students’ hearts. This last semester was no exception and was, indeed, eventful, to say the least. It is, therefore, appropriate and worthwhile to round up the memorable moments of student engagement that have occurred over this past academic year.

At the start of the Autumn semester of 2022, the Aurora Student Schemes project began, and a call was opened for students who wanted to get involved in Aurora’s work as either Ambassadors or Champions. In total, we’ve received over 100 applications from students across Aurora universities and, therefore, have the highest number of engaged students to date. These students have varied levels of engagement but can, for example, organise local Aurora events, participate in Work Packages and Task Teams, and work collaboratively with students from other Aurora universities.

When discussing the work that has taken place during this academic year, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bid writing that has been one of Aurora’s largest projects in the past months. This was a bid for continued funding from Erasmus+ under the European Universities initiative that was the impetus for the creation of the Aurora Alliance, and students took part in that work from its beginning.

The work began last summer, and as the President of the Aurora Student Council, I had a seat on the so-called Editorial Committee that met regularly and laid the groundwork for the new application.

In September, Institutional Coordinators from all 10 Aurora universities gathered at Copenhagen Business School and spent two days discussing and forming Aurora’s project priorities for the next four years. Two student representatives took part in that work, the President and Vice President of the Aurora Student Council, Alma Ágústsdóttir from the University of Iceland and Hanus Patera from Palacký University in Olomouc.

We worked continuously on the bid proposal after that, but the next large-scale student project wasn’t until November when the Student Council met at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. This was the first opportunity that the Aurora Student Council had to meet in person in the 2022-23 academic year, and we spent two days discussing and collecting areas of priority and importance to students, which were then presented to the Vice Rectors of Education from all the Aurora universities.

One of the main priorities the students agreed upon was that each university would work towards guaranteeing a paid student position at the local level. This is due to the workload of those students who take on the most responsibility for Aurora exceeding what can be expected of an unpaid volunteer. Such a position would also increase equality, diversity, and inclusion within Aurora since some students’ economic situation makes them unable to take on volunteer work alongside their studies, regardless of their interest in the work. The new position of Student Coordinator would ensure that each university has a fully engaged student responsible for lending support to other students who do work on behalf of Aurora, who would also work on reaching the general student population at an institutional level, as well as sit on the Student Council.

This endeavour was successful, and the position of Student Coordinator was included in the new application for continued funding.

In November, Aurora also held a Biannual virtual conference hosted by Universität Duisburg-Essen. There, the Student Council organised a World Café event on mental health (which is the Council’s emphasis for this academic year) titled Mental Health: Sharing Best Practices. Students, professors and staff of Aurora universities gathered to identify which mental health support efforts were successful, where support is lacking and how we can improve. In addition, this event enabled people to learn from each other cross-institutionally. At the World Café’s conclusion, the Student Council gathered and compiled the results and will use this input to continue our work in the area of increased mental health support within Aurora universities.

In December, Palacký University Olomouc in the Czech Republic hosted a conference titled European Universities – Future of Higher Education Forum, where several alliances gathered to discuss the future of European universities. As the Aurora Student Council president, I spoke on student participation within governance and discussed how we might fully employ students’ power.

The rectors of all 10 Aurora universities also gathered in Amsterdam in December to discuss and provide their approval, on behalf of their institutions, of all aspects included in Aurora’s new bid. As the Student Council President, I sat at that meeting, representing all students within Aurora member universities.

Since then, the planning of Aurora’s work for the next four years has continued and culminated in the submission of the application on January 30th. Having been a part of that work since its beginning, I feel confident in saying that the future of Aurora is bright!

Aurora R&I study reveals fruitful collaboration among Aurora researchers

The Aurora Alliance research and innovation team, on learning and sharing with other European universities, led by URV, confirmed a high level of collaboration amongst Aurora researchers. The level of collaboration is even higher than the international average. According to the field-weighted citation impact indicator (the ratio of citations received to citations expected as a function of the average for the scientific field), the citations observed are 78% higher than expected.

In addition to the high level of collaboration amongst researchers within the Aurora Alliance, it was found that researchers within Aurora also collaborate often with researchers from other European Universities Alliances. In total, Aurora Alliance universities collaborate(d) in 25 Horizon 2020 projects in different constellations. Aurora researchers collaborated most with Epicur, 4EU+, CIVIS and UNA Europa alliances. Regarding publications (also beyond Horizon 2020 project results), Aurora universities performed above the global average. Most co-publications were done with universities in the Charm-EU, 4EU+, Neurotech-EU and Circle U alliances.

The Aurora Research and Innovation goal within the Aurora Alliance Horizon 2020 programme is to share research and innovation resources and infrastructures, identify and implement good practices and scientific policies, cooperate in open science and entrepreneurial activity, enhance human capital, and allow the general public to take part.

The working group analysed outcomes generated by other  European university alliances to determine areas where universities can establish complementary practices, both within Aurora and other European Universities Alliances, using the SciVal tool. SciVal is an online tool that offers quick, easy access to the research performance of research institutions and nations worldwide using bibliometrics. It enables you to visualise research performance, benchmark relative to peers, develop collaborative partnerships and analyse research trends.

This report will lead to the creation of an action plan supporting continued research and innovation collaboration across the Aurora University Alliance and creating a digital platform for ongoing collaboration and sharing so that researchers and students can share tools and best practices for high-quality research and innovation.

The study, led by Vanesa Ruana and with the collaboration of Dr Rorger Guimerà and Ignasi Salvadó, can be found here.

First Aurora micro-credential “Sustainability & Climate Change” awarded

On 2 February 2023, Universität Innsbruck awarded the first micro-credential certificate to Giusi Merola from Università Federico II di Napoli. The micro-credential, part of the Aurora joint programme on “Sustainability & Climate Change,” was awarded for Giusi’s completion of 10 ECTS credits.

Giusi is the first student, not just at Federico II but throughout the Aurora European University Alliance, to receive a micro-credential, making her the trailblazer for a new era in higher education within Aurora. A micro-credential is a record of the learning outcomes acquired after a short course of study. The courses are designed to provide students with specific knowledge, skills, and competencies that meet societal, personal, cultural, or labour market needs. Micro-credentials are portable and can be shared with potential employers or higher education institutions.

Giusi’s experience with the micro-credential was overwhelmingly positive. She shares, “During the lessons, we learned about climate change from various perspectives: anthropological, social, cultural, and scientific. We were given the tools to identify the realities that truly care about sustainability. As a final test, we wrote a report identifying companies close to receiving the B-Corp certification and developed a social start-up project which was presented at the European Forum of Alpbach in Austria to hundreds of students and investors. The experiences enriched me as a person, added valuable skills to my CV, and created numerous online and offline connections.”

The “Sustainability & Climate Change” micro-credential is a unique and innovative approach to learning that aligns with the European Council Recommendations. The micro-credential allows participating universities to share the latest research results with students in real time through research-led teaching and challenge-based learning. The certificate not only strengthens opportunities for inclusive international learning but also engages all partners in the Aurora Alliance to provide quality education. Moreover, the micro-credential certificate represents the effort for interoperability of the Aurora universities’ IT systems and connection to common European interfaces and platforms, such as Europass and European Digital Credentials for Learning. This is a further step to help overcome recognition problems that still exist in some places, often due to national study laws.

Universität Innsbruck’s issuance of the first micro-credential certificate demonstrates the potential for a new and innovative approach to learning across Aurora universities. The “Sustainability & Climate Change” micro-credential provides students with a unique opportunity to gain specialized knowledge and competencies while simultaneously addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

Aurora submitted new EUI proposal with University of Iceland as lead

Aurora submitted its new EU funding proposal under the European Universities Initiative. After successfully managing the first three years of the Alliance, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is staying on as co-lead, and the University of Iceland will take the lead role in the Aurora Alliance.

The bid will extend Aurora’s commitment to positively impact society through its main priorities: teaching and learning for societal impact, engaging and collaborating through inclusive communities, being pioneers in sustainable endeavours, and providing excellent challenge-based research and innovation support. Together, the partners will continue to deliver on the joint mission and vision of equipping students with social entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, building on the results achieved in the first phase.

Leading up to the submission were many months of intense preparation and consultation with the entire Aurora community under the lead and coordination of the Aurora Central Office. At the start of these activities, a deliberate decision was made to ask the experts in their fields to develop plans for what they hoped to achieve in the next four years of funding for Aurora. The ambitions of the experts, in close collaboration with the Institutional Coordinators of the Aurora partners, resulted in an ambitious work programme. This programme of work is based on three main objectives:

  1. Equip students and staff with the skills and mindset to become social innovators, changemakers and entrepreneurs;
  2. Foster academic collaboration and community building to build a long-term Aurora identity; and
  3. Collaborate with external stakeholders and deepen student’s engagement in education, research and outreach.

Mirjam van Praag, President of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said:

So far, it has been a pleasure to lead the alliance through the start-up phase of the first bid with various initiatives for Aurora staff and students that we really can be proud of. I am very confident in continuing our collaboration with the University of Iceland as the lead.”

Jón Atli Benediktsson, President of the University of Iceland and newly re-elected President of the Aurora Network, expressed how pleased he was:

“After seeing the hard work and dedication of the staff and students at our universities, I am confident that the Aurora collaboration will grow and create more opportunities for our students, faculty, and the greater community”.

From 2020-2023, Aurora has been part of the 44 European University Alliances co-funded under the Erasmus+ programme led by VU Amsterdam. The Alliance provides multiple opportunities for students, staff, and academics to engage in each other’s inclusive university communities. The project has already reached 80% of its deliverables—with only a few more to be completed before November 2023. In July 2022, the project received a glowing review from the European Commission as having made remarkable progress that can serve as a model of what is possible to achieve as a European University Alliance.

If you want to participate in Aurora, head on over to the virtual campus and, sign up for courses, events, training and read the many resources available.