Group: For Academics

Aurora Endorses the Manifesto For EU COVID-19

Aurora has signed the Manifesto For EU Covid-19 Research that maximizes the accessibility of research results in the fight against COVID-19. All Aurora universities support this quest to join forces on ground breaking research and innovation.

The Manifesto is part of the EU Coronavirus response, the common European response to the coronavirus outbreak. It provides guiding principles for beneficiaries of EU research grants for coronavirus prevention, testing, treatment and vaccination to ensure that their research results will be accessible for all and guarantee a return on public investment. This will aim to ensure that no one is left behind in the fight against Covid-19 and that solutions will be developed, produced and deployed to every single corner of the world.

By endorsing the manifesto, Aurora will support to:

  • Make the generated results, whether tangible or intangible, public and accessible without delay, for instance on the Horizon Results Platform, on an existing IP sharing platform, or through an existing patent pool.
  • Make scientific papers and research data available in open access without delay and following the FAIR principles via preprint servers or public repositories, with rights for others to build upon the publications and data and with access to the tools needed for their validation. In particular, make COVID-19 research data available through the European COVID-19 Data Platform
  • Where possible, a grant for a limited time, non-exclusive royalty-free licences on the intellectual property resulting from EU-funded research. These non-exclusive royalty-free licenses shall be given in exchange for the licensees’ commitment to rapidly and broadly distribute the resulting products and services under fair and reasonable conditions to prevent, diagnose, treat and contain COVID-19

The Manifesto seeks the voluntary support and endorsement from public and private stakeholders benefitting from EU funding, as well as from other research funders and prominent institutions. An updated list of organisations that already endorsed the Manifesto may be found here.

Aurora European University Alliance Programme Accepted

Proud and happy, we announce that the Aurora European University Alliance programme has been accepted by the European Commission. The Aurora European University Alliance programme will be one of 41 projects leading the way in helping to create a European Higher Education and Research community.

The Aurora Alliance has been selected by the European Commission as one of the now 41 European University initiatives supported through the Erasmus+ programme to lead the way to a European Higher Education and Research sector that contributes to a Europe of prosperity and well-being.

The Aurora Alliance stems from the Aurora Universities Network. Originally formed in 2016, Aurora is a network of research-intensive universities deeply committed to the social impact of our activities, and with a history of engagement with our communities.

The Aurora Alliance consists of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of East Anglia, University of Iceland, University Duisburg-Essen, University Rovira I Virgili, University of Naples, University of Innsbruck, Copenhagen Business School, and Palacky University in Olomouc. The Alliance has a number of associate partners, four of which are universities in Central and Eastern Europe.

Aurora President Prof David Richardson said: “I’m extremely delighted with this news. Universities are here to serve society, and therefore they have to be socially inclusive. Aurora is a socially inclusive network with exciting ideas on how to deliver relevant inclusive curricula for the future.”

Aurora Board member and Vrije Universiteit President Mirjam van Praag shares her gratitude as the Aurora Alliance receives the European Universities Alliance Grant. She says that the Aurora Alliance can now start building programs based on social entrepreneurship and apply it to societal relevant topics.

Callum Perry, President of the Aurora Student Council, finds Aurora to be remarkable and is honoured to be part of such a grand network of students and staff. The crux of Aurora lies in that Aurora doesn’t ask what society can do for universities, but what universities can do for societies. Please watch his video testimonial below:

We are looking forward to implementing and executing our strategy in the coming months to kick off the Aurora Alliance Programme.

For further information please contact Aurora Program Director Sabine Allain Sainte-Rose: s.allain-sainterose@vu.nl

Cooperation between URV and Mozambique in the area of malnutrition

The Erasmus project forms part of the cooperation project between URV Solidària, the URV’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Infant Nutritional Support Centre on the island of Ibo.

The work begun by URV professor Maria Eugènia Vilella Nebot in Mozambique in 2007 to combat malnutrition on the island of Ibo has led to new forms of collaboration involving students and researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Health. Through a project funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission, these collaborations will pave the way for a new research line in malnutrition at the URV.

Specifically, until 2022, five Mozambique students will study at the URV to complete their Bachelor’s or Master’s theses as members of research groups, and a doctoral student from the URV will carry out fieldwork in Mozambique. There will also be an exchange of five professors and researchers between the URV and the Eduardo Mondlane University (Maputo) and Lúrio University (Nampula), who are also members of the project.

This Erasmus project will form part of another cooperation project by the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (with support from URV Solidària), which funds initiatives from the university community for cooperation in development. This initiative will enable two students of Nutrition from Lúrio University to carry out an internship and Bachelor’s Thesis at the Infant Nutritional Support Centre on the island of Ibo, accompanied by Maria Eugènia Vilella and two professors from the Lúrio University. It will also allow a student on the Interuniversity Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Metabolism run by the URV and the UB to complete their master’s thesis at this centre.

In the centre, the professors from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, M. Eugènia Vilella and Josep Ribalta, head of the Postgraduate and Doctoral School, with members of Lúrio University in Nampula, Mozambique.

A specialist in developing countries

The origins of these projects lie in the work of Professor Maria Eugènia Vilella Nebot, a specialist in nutrition in developing countries. In 2010 she created the Infant Nutritional Support Centre in Ibo, with the Ibo Foundation, for studying, providing training in and treating infant malnutrition on the island. The nutritional intervention was also subject of Vilella’s thesis, who managed to reduce rates of malnutrition in children under the age of five on the island of Ibo and to encourage their mothers to adopt healthy nutritional habits.

Generating knowledge is necessary for achieving these three tasks, hence the proposal for the URV to have a research line in malnutrition, which responds to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Objective of zero hunger. By analysing dietary habits and nutritional data in the population, researchers will be able to design and implement a specific and sustainable intervention for the population with supplements based on the foodstuffs from the area, which will been to be reinforced with nutritional education and the promotion of food safety and hygiene.

Sustainable Development at the University of Duisburg-Essen

Long before the abundance of social and political attention had coined terms like climate crisis and flight shaming, students and staff at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) were already working systematically to build a sustainable university. UDE is a member of the Aurora University Network.

The “Sustainable Development at the University of Duisburg-Essen” report demonstrates how projects and people are shaping sustainable development at UDE. It covers the period 2014 to early 2020 and assigns the activities presented to the 17 goals for sustainable development of the United Nations.

The report is assembled by a team of the university’s internal project “Sustainable UDE – Designing a Sustainability Process (napro)” with the support of numerous university actors from all status groups. The napro team presents proposals for action in the areas of research, teaching, operation, social responsibility, transfer, networks and engagement. Access the report by clicking the button below.

 

Project coordination, text and editing: Prof. Dr. André Niemann, Ilka Roose, Elisa Gansel, Laura Briese
Contact: nachhaltigkeit@uni-due.de

 

Researchers at the URV are developing a device to quickly detect COVID-19

The device aims to develop a serological test within 3 months that takes only 15 minutes to differentiate between patients that are infected by COVID-19 and those who have been recovered by it.

The research group Interfibio of the Department of Chemical Engineering of the URV, has been working for weeks on a device that can quickly detect COVID-19. The project, headed by Ciara O’Sullivan, aims to develop in three months a cheap, quick and easy-to-use serological test for detecting the disease, which can also identify patients who have the disease and those who have recovered from it. The test will consist of a device with a single lateral flux that requires only a drop of blood taken from the fingertip (like a sugar-level test or diabetic people) and it will give a result in less than 15 minutes.

The new device is being developed by Ciara O’Sullivan, Míriam Jauset, Vasoula Skouridou and Ivan Magriñà and it will detect the antibodies IgA, IgM and IgG, which are produced by the immune system of infected individuals to combat the infection. The antibodies IgA and IgM are the first to be produced, shortly after an infection, while the IgG antibodies appear later and are associated with long-term immunity and immunological memory. The presence of these antibodies in the blood of a patient can provide information about current and past infections and their detection will effectively complement efforts to contain the disease and determine its true extent, given the large number of asymptomatic patients with COVID-19. Furthermore, the test will eliminate the possibility of false negatives.

The device is quicker, cheaper and easier to use than those that have been used up to now, the most common of which is reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in real-time using specific primers of the virus. However, these RT-PCR molecular tests have certain limitations, such as the long time they take to provide a result and the fact that people need to be trained to carry them out.

In contrast, the device being developed by the URV research group will take less than 15 minutes to give a result, will cost approximately one euro and can be administered quickly and easily by anybody because it requires no additional equipment or laboratory facilities.

Once the prototype has been developed, it will be tested in various hospitals around Spain, including the Joan XXIII Hospital in Tarragona and the Verge de la Cinta Hospital in Tortosa; the Health Research Institute at the Álvaro Cunqueiro Galicia Sur Hospital, The Clinical University Hospital of Valencia and the OSI Donostialea Health Research Institute. Once the test’s validity has been confirmed, it will be produced on an industrial scale.

The development of this diagnostic device is being supported by the Carlos III Health Institute through the COVID-19 fund to promote projects that improve the understanding and management of the virus in the short term.

Read more here

The well-being of Icelanders during the COVID-19 pandemic

Scientists at the University of Iceland, in collaboration with the Directorate of Health and the Chief Epidemiologist, have initiated a study called the COVID-19 National Resilience Cohort.

The aim of the study is to gather as much data as possible on the impact of the pandemic on the health and well-being of people in Iceland, in order to inform future responses to the impact of a societal shock such as a pandemic. All individuals aged 18 and over who have electronic ID are invited to take part in the study at lidanicovid.is/english. The University of Iceland is a member of the Aurora University Network. The study is sponsored by a presidential couple of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Eliza Reid.

It is safe to say that COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest challenges to ever face nations across the world, having a major impact on economies and public health. Iceland has not escaped these hardships rather than other countries in the world. Scientists, therefore, believe it is important to get as clear a picture as possible of the effects of the pandemic on the Icelandic nation.

They plan to investigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on stress-related symptoms, psychological health and lifestyles among people in Iceland, but also to explore whether a history of a disease or other risk factors or potential or confirmed COVID-19 infection, are linked to poorer well-being and lower quality of life. It is important to map which factors have supported good health and well-being in individuals and families during these uncertain times. The research team also hopes to shed light on whether strong stress responses during the COVID-19 pandemic have a wider impact on long-term health. All this knowledge will be important to the authorities and can be used to better organise healthcare services and civil protection during times of societal shock such as the COVID-19 pandemic. An experienced team of scientists are involved in the study, led by Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir, professor at the University of Iceland Faculty of Medicine.

The study is part of an international research project in this field and is, as previously stated, open to all individuals aged 18 and over with electronic ID.

“Icelanders generally have a positive attitude toward taking part in research and the nation has probably never been more aware of the importance of science than just now. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused societal shock across the world, but we Icelanders have a unique opportunity to better understand the factors that are beneficial and detrimental in these unusual circumstances,” says Unnur.

“We can tell there are higher levels of stress in the population. The number of people contacting the health clinics has gone up, for example, due to anxiety and fear of infection, but there has also been an increase in people calling the Red Cross helpline due to loneliness. There is a danger, too, that alcohol consumption will rise and according to the police, there are indications that domestic violence is increasing as well. It is likely that the effects of the pandemic on society could be protracted. It is thus very important to explore what these effects are and research these things carefully so that we can respond correctly,” says Alma D. Möller, the Director of Health.

The research has already been approved by the National Bioethics Committee and the Data Protection Authority and has received a grant from the government of ISK 1.5 million.

On the photo, Arna Hauksdottir and Unnur Anna Valdimarsdottir, both professors at the University of Iceland are playing a leading role in the new research. Photo: Kristinn Ingvarsson.

Aurora Meets European Commission on Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH)

Horizon Europe is the 9th EU Framework Programme to support research and innovation (R&I), succeeding Horizon 2020. It will run from 2021-2027 with the first Calls for Proposals expected in 2021.

Although a budget and full specific programme has not yet been agreed upon, the European Commission has reached an agreement with the Council and European Parliament on the key features. The Horizon Europe strategy sets out three pillars for funding, each of which will be supported by activities to widen participation and strengthening the European Research Area (more details see here). Specific attention will be given to citizen engagement and social sciences and humanities (SSH).

At the initiative of Pim de Boer (EU Brussels liaison officer for both VU and Amsterdam UMC ) researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam met with staff from European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation on the 2nd of March, to discuss the role of SSH in pillar 2 of Horizon Europe, i.e. dealing with clusters or global challenges. Here are some highlights from that discussion.

Horizon Europe aims to have a dual approach to incorporating SSH. On the one hand, SSH will have a dedicated programme of work under (mainly) the second cluster (culture, creativity and inclusive society) and third cluster (civil security for society) in pillar 2.

On the other hand,  SSH is intended to be embedded across all other clusters in pillar two and all other parts of the Horizon Europe Programme. SSH may offer new perspectives on the challenges at hand, may provide designs with and implementation of new interventions beyond the current mainstream – often technology centred – perspectives on the urgent problems that Europe faces today.

This implies a need to incorporate SSH in all other clusters addressing all challenges. SSH particularly has a role to play in how research is designed (for example, through citizen/user engagement in the choice of research questions and research design), as well as in ensuring societal impact. Such an effect needs to be measured. Examples of measurements have been published in the ‘pathways to SSH impact’ document.

We discussed various examples of how SSH can be embedded across the clusters with ‘action research’, ‘living labs’, ‘stakeholder involvement’ being cited as examples of good practice for addressing, among others, behaviour, disinformation, inequalities, education, polarisation, urban planning, health (like the COVID-19 infection) and governance aspects.

Simulation games promote development of most in-demand career skills

Researchers at the URV and UOC have evaluated the impact of simulation games on the learning processes of students enrolled on bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, observing that, in addition to increasing student’s levels of motivation, these simulators also deliver improvements in terms of the learning process and skills acquired.

Over recent decades a new approach has been developed that casts students in a more active and prominent role concerning their learning experience. Several technologies have been created to support new tools for teaching and learning. The question that remains is: Are they competent enough to provide tangible benefits for learners? 

Researchers at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) aimed to answer this question with the use of the ‘serious games’ approach applied within the field of economics. Specifically, their focus has been to evaluate the impact of business simulation games on the learning processes of students enrolled on bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, observing that, in addition to increasing student’s levels of motivation, these simulators also deliver improvements in terms of the learning process and skills acquired.

The study involved the participation of 115 students (62.61% male and 37.39% female), with an average age of 36, who played simulation games as part of their bachelor’s or master’s degree management course curriculum. They were divided into teams of four or five and competed against other teams to simulate a real company scenario. The teams completed a total of eight rounds with each round representing an economic period. At the end of the process, the researchers asked participants to complete a questionnaire to evaluate their learning process and the skills acquired.

The researchers analyzed several skills during the usage of simulators. The indicated skills included both generic and cross-disciplinary that can be applied to any education, such as decision-making, teamwork and communication, and study-specific such as in this case, the interpretation of financial reports.

The results of the study reveal that generic skills exert a positive influence on learning outcomes. The students were better equipped to process and analyses information and possessed improved skills concerning teamwork, innovation and creativity, as well as communication and technology use. These relate to specific cross-disciplinary skills that are highly valued by the labour market, serving to prepare individuals to adapt to any workplace successfully.

The researchers further concluded that these types of tools also help to overcome time and space constraints to learning. As Hernández pointed out, “they are more flexible and promote ubiquitous learning and the generation of learning communities”.

Aurora becomes Endorsing Partner Network of the SDG Accord

The Aurora Sustainability Group has identified the SDG Accord, an initiative of the Global Alliance, as a light-touch way for Aurora members to show their commitment to the SDGs and report on their work regarding the SDGs.

The SDG Accord is administered by the Environmental Association for Universities & Colleges [EAUC] and endorsed by the UN’s HE Sustainability Initiative.

The SDG Accord invites institutions to sign up (at the most senior level) to a series of commitments around the SDGs and, as part of those commitments, to compile a light touch report. Those reports are aggregated annually across the global HE/FE sector and presented to the UN. They demonstrate the scale of the impact of tertiary education against the SDGs. As of May 2019, over 110 institutions from 80+ countries had officially signed. The Board acknowledges that Aurora institutions are all at different places in their SDG journey.

We believe that signing the SDG Accord provides a clear, unambiguous baseline commitment that we should all be able to support. Therefore, we invite you to sign the Accord as a shared, collective and demonstrable public commitment to the SDGs. Meanwhile, as a sign of support, we have become an Endorsing Partner Network.  The University of Aberdeen, the University of East Anglia, the University of Naples Federico II, the University of  Rovira i Virgili, University of Innsbruck and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam have all signed the Accord.

Simultaneously, the Aurora Student Council has requested the Aurora Board that the member universities of the Aurora Universities Network declare a climate emergency.

Aurora position paper on future mission area “Cancer”

The European Commission has established five missions and installed their boards. The missions need to be defined by goals, deliverables and a work plan in collaboration with stakeholders.

Therefore, the European Commission brought together stakeholders at national levels and beyond to debate and shape the future research and innovation landscape.

Aurora has developed a position paper with statements on the future mission area “Cancer” in order to help shape this mission in view of the European research and innovation program Horizon Europe. Please click the button to find the paper.