Group: For society

Aurora’s work on Eastern Partnership presented at ACAs “What’s New in Brussels?” Seminar

On the 2nd and 3rd  of February, Selma Porobic was invited to ACA’s (Academic Cooperation Association) seminar “What’s new in Brussels? – Recent Developments in European Policies and Programmes”  to introduce Aurora’s Capacity Development Support (CDS) programme with special focus on its institutional support to the V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine.

After two consecutive years online, ACAs flagship seminar “What’s new in Brussels?” was this year organized in-person in Brussels, providing its speakers and participants with the full networking experience and overview of the latest developments regarding the European Higher Education Area in a global perspective.  The 2023 agenda gathered various European Commission representatives as well as a variety of policy advisers and experts in the International Education thus offering a wide range of thematic sessions and panels: from the latest policy developments and priorities such as Diversity and Inclusion, to prospective projects involving the Eastern Partnership, Western Balkans, Sub-Saharan Africa & South Mediterranean.

In her session, “Working with Global Regions – Eastern Partnership“, Selma Porobic shared the results of the Aurora’s unique CDS programme in Central & Eastern Europe, and how it was transformed into a  tailor-made support scheme to address the needs of the war-affected Aurora associate partner, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University.  Since  March 2022, as Ukraine Support  Coordinator in Aurora, and in a close collaboration with Karazin’s leadership, she has been fully managing the emergency response as well as designing and implementing the long-term, systemic and institutional support for this partner university in Ukraine.

In this panel, Selma also introduced the continuation of this engagement in the next phase of the Aurora Alliance’s programme as part of the work package Capacity Building and Community Engagement. During the next four years, another dedicated task team, Karazin University Peace Education Hub, led by Palacký University Olomouc, plans to work  towards further strengthening of the Karazin University’s capacity for education and training in conflict transformation, and peace building within the wider Kharkiv region.

Looking back at the European Universities Forum at Palacky University Olomouc

On the 1st and 2nd of December, Palacký University Olomouc organised the European Universities Forum. This high-level event, organised in the light of the Czech EU presidency, provided its participants an opportunity to discuss and assess the role of European Universities Initiative pilot phase in the Czech higher education context and within the European aims of building the Higher Education Area.

This forum was opened by the Czech Deputy-Minister for Education Radka Wildova, who stressed the importance of European Universities, which is a priority for the ministry, and praised the Aurora Alliance for its excellent implementation of the initiative’s lofty ambitions.

Following the Deputy-Minister, UP Rector Martin Prochazka’s opening speech pointed in the direction of expressing the importance of European university Alliances in the national higher-education framework as well as overall progress of Aurora Alliance inseparable from institutional contributions of each dedicated member of the Aurora team working together. He noted the excellent feedback received from the Commission for Aurora results so far, who described Aurora as an Alliance that “has made remarkable progress and can serve as a model of what is possible to achieve as an alliance.”

We welcome you to take a look at the aftermovie of the event. Below you can find a detailed report of the various panels and workshops.

Day 1 – High-level Panels

Panel 1: State of Multilateral Collaboration and Support to European University Initiative

This opening panel was moderated by Michal Malacka, Vice-Rector for Strategy and Regional Affairs at Palacký University Olomouc and featured contributions from Ioana Dewandeler, Higher Education Policy Officer at the European Commission; Emmanuelle Gardan, Director of the Coimbra Group of Universities; Tilmann Märk, Rector of the University of Innsbruck; Thomas Estermann, Director of the European Universities Association; and Thomas Baumgartner, Aurora Institutional Coordinator at the University of Innsbruck.

The panel focused on the significance of the European University Initiative as a flagship program of European Higher Education with synergies concerning the European Research and Innovation Area, and its overall contribution to the European Strategy for Universities. It brought to the fore importance of a supportive multilateral environment for European University Alliances and their long-term sustainability.

European Commission representative, Ioana Dewandeler shared a long-term vision and policy support for the European University Alliances stemming from EU Council’s conclusions in May 2021, stressing both finical support until 2030 but also how being part of Alliances contributes to strong and diverse universities which are crucial to the growth of higher education institutions in Europe aligned with European University Strategy and discussed priority areas such as inclusion, student-centered approach, international cooperation, future proof skills and green and digital transition.

Rector Märk, representing both Aurora Alliance and his institution reminded us of institutional integration of the alliance results as a way forward to achieving a real transformative impact across our universities. Making alliance European level results strategically embedded within our universities as a way forward towards achieving the aimed goals of institutional relevance.

Thomas Estermann pointed out right governance models – aligning institutional governance with overarching Alliance one and mainlining enthusiastic group of people running the programme brining n board more and more academic staff as crucial to continuity needed to achieve real change (bottom-up matching the top down). Other panelists discussed EUN Alliances being role models for the entire sector, inspiring institutions who are not part of the initiative to promote the necessary changes in society.

Panel 2:  Ambitions, Challenges & Best Practices of Pioneering European University Alliances

In this second high-level panel, moderated by Roman Klepetko and Lenka Procházková of the Czech National Agency for International Education and Research, Michal Malacka, Pavel Doleček, Břetislav Dančák, Zbyněk Škvor, and Snježana Prijić-Samaržija discussed the key elements for the implementation of the joint vision, mission and strategies of the European University Alliances by zooming in on the transformative leadership, co-engagement and governance models in a transnational European context, and with a reference to regional geopolitical challenges, including the war in Ukraine.

The panel was preceded by an opening speech by Tetyana Kaganovska, Rector of V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University reminding us how political context can force institutional challenges that need situational ad hoc solutions and how the strength of Alliances already working in the region such as Aurora with Capacity building programme proved to be crucial in urgent responses needed to adapt to new working circumstances.

Rector Snježana Prijić-Samaržija from Rijeka University pointed out how a project-based approach vs an institutional-based approach (from vertical to horizontal) is important and introduced functional integration in the context of decentralised universities as relevant to the success of EUN goals. YUFE Alliance aims for alliance of faculties as well and in that way supports the institutionalisation of the EUN goals. The representatives from CVUT, Masaryk University, and Charles University focused on the Czech national context and collaboration across Alliances to create real momentum for change in Czech legislation toward facilitating more institutional internationalisation in education.

The panel concluded how strategic alignment, policy and funding and scaling up programme managerial teams and bilateral institutional partnerships as well as sending off the right signal to active stakeholders in EUN initiative at national and European level is of crucial importance for the overarching ambition of the programme.

Day 2 – Workshops

European University Alliances  – Research and Innovation

This workshop brought together representatives from all Czech alliances focusing on the most tangible results of the Science with and for Society(Horizon2020) project on the institutional level. They discussed the challenges and best practices of aligning our research resources so far across the Alliances members, and how to move ahead beyond the pilot phase.

Some conclusions of the workshop are that there are notable key differences and similarities; and that we are all tackling similar challenges: Engagement of researchers, Lack of funding, Cultural differences, and different structures: some universities have centralised bureaus for research support and infrastructures, others are decentralized, managed by individual faculties or other bodies, and National context, co-funding as well as Fragmentation of projects, described by Pavel Senderak as a “project jungle”. However, the joint   discussion of values and objectives showcased a lot of similarities in terms of priority areas such as Sustainability, climate, environment, Health and Wellbeing, Digitalisation, Democracy and citizen engagement, Equality and Inclusion and more as well as common objectives of promoting Open Science, Sharing Infrastructure, increasing Research support collaboration, and aiming towards the HR transformation across the institutions.

European University Alliances and Governance Models –Deepened Collaboration

In this workshop we had project managers from all Czech and guest Alliances engaging together in sharing the transnational cooperation models so far i.e., governance prototypes established, and how do they contribute to the implementation of the common vision, strategy, and activities of the EUN Alliances.

The focus was also on student and staff participation and inter-university campuses after the pilot phase, focusing on improvements in the next phase. Aurora, YUFE, EDUC, EUROTEQ all presented their own innovative and new, systemic, cooperation models with new ideas in moving forward. The discussion has been most fruitful and revealed how project management and governance have been overlapping greatly from the beginning of all alliance programs.

After the pilot phase, most alliances required detailed fleshing out of roles and responsibilities for key positions such as programme directors, institutional coordinators, governing board, and central offices, further defining the mandates and workflows. Daniela Trani, programme director of YUFE presented a governance model which recognised the growth of the project portfolio and with that revision of the governance too. Alma Ágústsdóttir, Aurora Student Council President reminded us of the active role of students in the governance model of Aurora which is also given more prominence in the next phase with the entire task team dedicated to this. Dr Selma Porobic, workshop moderator and Aurora Alliance UP Coordinator concluded the workshop by underlining how governance with decision-making process is a continuous effort with further elaboration needed in all Alliances and how this is in line with the very objectives of creating trans-institutional organisation that EUNs aspire to be.

European University Alliances, Challenged-based Approach and Stakeholder Engagement

The third workshop featured a high-level round table discussion. Led Otakar Fojt, research attaché at the British Embassy and chair of the Palacky University Board of Trustees, the discussion brought together various local and international stakeholders to talk about how European Universities can better collaborate with external stakeholders.

During the discussion, the group identified the three main levels of stakeholder cooperation: the global; the European; and the regional level. Moreover, the distinction between governmental and private stakeholders was highlighted.

The global level poses many complications for European Universities, having to strike a balance between institutional preferences and geopolitical developments and tensions.

On the European level, the discussion focused on the need for effective lobbying and engagement of various European stakeholders. It was concluded that in order to effectively reach the various European stakeholders, it is important to provide a unified message, using the appropriate channels, such as the ForEU-platform and established university networks. More can be done to connect European Universities to European-level industrial and business umbrella organisations.

In order to facilitate cooperation on the regional level, the importance of careful matchmaking between the most compatible regions. To facilitate this, clear regional profiles should be made, featuring among other aspects the region’s strategic plans and particular regional strengths. The sharing of such information would allow for the targeted development of cooperation between the various concerned regions, allowing them to bundle forces where relevant.

The overall conclusion was that European Universities can play an important role in connecting diverse stakeholders, by uniting and connecting various fragmented efforts. To achieve this, a clear and unified message is paramount.

For more on the European Universities forum, place take a look a the short interviews and statements below:  

Interview – Radka Wildová: https://youtu.be/cJLMPlF80Bg

Interview – Martin Procházka: https://youtu.be/pIKRn4bq1b0

Interview – Anne-May Jansen: https://youtu.be/wJiJm51rRh4

Interview – Thomas Estermann: https://youtu.be/F0hvOE0oqeM

Interview – Pavel Doleček: https://youtu.be/aqHyF2Rs2UE

Pairing scientific excellence with social awareness and responsibility

Aurora universities share a commitment to social relevance and excellence in research. Aurora RI was created to build a platform to maximise Aurora’s research and innovation for societal impact. This means working together towards excellence in research with coordinated research support.

We want researchers and scientists in Aurora:

  • to have an easy time collaborating with one another:
    • Get assistance finding grants
    • Share resources and equipment
    • travel to meet one another
  • to be evaluated fairly with a wider criteria
  • to connect with citizens
  • to have a positive impact on society

To accomplish this, we focus on the administrative hurdles researchers face; the “computer says no” problems. This means building stronger bridges between administrative staff and researchers, academics, and scientists. The people who work in HR, research support services, grants offices, IT, international offices, rectorates, and communications are coming together to work on changing policies, identifying areas where collaboration is easy and also areas where cooperation is tricky, and working on productive solutions.

Collaboration is key

Auður Inga Rúnarsdóttir is one of those people, as she is the project manager of Aurora Research and Innovation. According to her, collaboration is key to changing the world of academia. “We can make academia fairer, evaluating researchers based on wider criteria, for example, not focusing only on the number of publications but also other factors. We make sure that research is societally relevant and in line with the SDGs,” she points out.

The final goal is to develop a shared support plan for research and innovation where all the universities agree on joint next steps and what changes need to be made. “We work on open science policies, open access to data and publications. This allows researchers to use information that may otherwise not be available to them or blocked by a paywall. Institutions must choose which paywalls to break, and the selection is always imperfect. Wealthier institutions can grant more access, fostering inequality in academia,” says Auður on the importance of the project.

Where do we stand now?

This is a three-year project, and we are one year in. The first year was focused on mapping, gathering information about policies, methods used for outreach, research support, best practices in HR, and citizen engagement. Entrepreneurial activities were analysed to set up plans for communicating and disseminating the work.

We have created a database for infrastructure and resources and are currently working on how to share it. In three years’ time, we will have action plans in place in multiple areas (HR, research support, entrepreneurial activities) as well as new structures for effective cooperation between science and society, thus pairing scientific excellence with social awareness and responsibility,” concludes Auður on Aurora’s dedication to develop platforms for academic collaboration and in the process, hopefully, making academia greener, fairer, and better for all.

A video with Auður Inga made for the Autumn Virtual Aurora Biannual held 9 – 10 November on Sustainable Resources and Mobility in Europe:

Pilot Domain “Sustainability & Climate Change” bears first fruits

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” this well-known quote highly resonates with the current transdisciplinary educational programme Sustainability & Climate Change, as it makes headway within the Aurora Alliance at Universität Innsbruck. The goal is to create an innovative, transdisciplinary educational joint program dealing with sustainability and climate change in a holistic way.

Christina Raab is an active member of the Pilot Domain Sustainability and Climate Change and is also Deputy Head of the Aurora European Universities Alliance Office at Innsbruck. When not working on all things Aurora and sustainability, she works at the Office for the Bologna Process & Teaching Development. Although the ongoing process has many stumbling blocks, Teaching Development is very dear to Christina.

As part of my job, I have the privilege of developing new, innovative courses with colleagues and academics. For me, it is always important and very helpful that Aurora pays attention to learning outcomes and student-centredness and that I can accompany and monitor this focus with suitable tools”.

The biggest goal for Christina and the Pilot Domain Sustainability and Climate Change members is to create an innovative, transdisciplinary educational joint program dealing with sustainability and climate change in a holistic way — one that considers both ecological and economic concerns. Additionally, this programme will be designed to address complex societal problems in various ecosystems. With this in mind, students will need to learn skills and develop mindsets that enable them to take responsibility for their work and life and become engaged civilians who tackle societal and environmental problems.

Sustainability and Climate Change Joint Programme

The desired mission is going to be fulfilled soon. The Sustainability & Climate Change transdisciplinary educational programme will be open to all Aurora Master students of all disciplinary backgrounds, accounting for 30 ECTS credits. It is jointly created by the Aurora European Universities Alliance.

Christina and her team members have opened Aurora courses at Universität Innsbruck so that students from all partner universities can participate online, on-site or through short-term mobility. Two of these courses form the 10 ECTS credit micro-credential “Sustainability & Climate Change”, developed by the same name’s pilot domain. This is the first micro-credential offered by both Universität Innsbruck and Aurora Universities. Students who successfully complete the micro-credential “Sustainability & Climate Change” receive a digital certificate from Aurora (issued by Universität Innsbruck). These students will have had a learning experience, enabling them to act as social entrepreneurs and innovators, willing and able to take responsibility. With this micro-credential, Aurora students gain an understanding of how their scientific and educational background can be applied in a transdisciplinary and challenge-based way to solve societal challenges. Students also learn to work effectively with other members from diverse, multicultural backgrounds within international teams.

With such a fantastic milestone and achievement in sight, Christina Raab said: “I would like to extend my thanks to all members of the groups for their efforts and dedication over the last year—especially those in Pilot Domain ‘Sustainability & Climate Change and Borderless Learning Group. We are grateful!”

Looking back at the International Summer School: Refugee Law & Rights

In support of our Ukrainian partners at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, the International Summer School Refugee Law & Rights took place between the 15th and 25th of August, in Olomouc. The hybrid school, co-organized and implemented by Palacký University Olomouc and Karazin University, welcomed 24 participants both online and in person.

The participants came from six countries including United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, and Ukraine. They comprised both undergraduate and postgraduate students of social sciences, mostly from law studies, sociology, and human rights.

During ten dynamic days, the participants followed lectures, engaged in discussions and participated in an extensive evening program, during which the students had a chance to engage with professionals in the field, UNHCR experts, as well as a plenary sessions on Peace Building and Recovery with Karazin University Staff and Peace Education MA student from the University of Innsbruck.

As part of the ongoing Aurora Universities donations and support campaign for Karazin University, the school was able to provide 5 students from Karazin University free of charge online participation, and to engage another 5 university professors and 2 administrative stuff in its organization and full program implementation, alongside the UP and International experts.

A detailed report of the International Summer School on Refugee Law & Rights can be found here.

The full program of the summer school can be found here.

Workshop Outcomes – Peace Education for Karazin University, and GRT inclusion in higher education.

On 30 June 2022, two workshops titled ‘Developing a Peace Education Programme for Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine’ and ‘Removing barriers to Higher Education for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers’, were organised and moderated by Dr Spyros Themelis (UEA) and Dr Selma Porobic (Palacky University Olomouc) at the University of East Anglia (UEA). The two workshops, implemented under the framework of the Culture: Identity and Diversity pilot domain were a great success and will produce concrete outcomes in the future.

‘Developing a Peace Education Programme for Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine’

One of the developing features of Aurora support to Karazin Kharkiv National University is peace education programme. Peace education is an emerging field focusing on peacebuilding efforts through education in situations of collective trauma such as war, mass displacement, and genocide. This pedagogy focuses on the creation of safe environments for teachers and students to foster dialogue and reflection by enabling sharing of their own traumatic (and often conflictual) narratives and supporting perspective-taking.

Under the guidance of Dr. Selma Porobić, this workshop brought together 14 experts from over 9 different institutions, and aimed to  explore a collaborative model focusing on the development of peace education programme for Karazin Kharkiv University. During the group discussion two set of questions were addressed. Group A focused on how to develop Peace education (PE) as integral part of general competences for academicians at Karazin, while Group B focused on researching PE in the ongoing war situation in the city of Kharkiv and in the Eastern Ukraine.

Among the most significant outcomes of this workshop, are the establishment of the International Expert team for peace education platform at Karazin University and initial planning of peace education programme including timeline for different components, research methods, staff training and COILs.

Thanks to the SPACE Network, represented in the workshop by Elke Kitzelmann (UIBK), an initial donation was made towards the realization of the Peace Education platform and further Aurora collaborations with Karazin University. In addition, collaborations with UIBK’s new MA Peace Studies program, under prof. Andreas Oberprantacher were initiated as well.  As part of International Summer School in Refugee Law and Rights, co-organized by Palacky University and Karazin University, on August 24th, students from UIBK’s Peace studies  program will engage with Karazin University’s MA students in the plenary session ‘ Prospects for Peace Building, Recovery & Reconstruction.

We look forward to engagement from more Aurora universities. Enquiries about the PE program at Karazin University can be sent to Dr. Selma Porobić, coordinator for Aurora support to Karazin University.

‘Removing barriers to Higher Education for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers’

Gypsy, Roma and Travellers (GRT) are the largest ethnic minority and at the same time the most marginalised in Europe. It is little surprise, therefore, that they are also one of the most, if not the most, underrepresented group in higher education.

This workshop explored the types of barriers facing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller students in accessing Higher Education and experiences of inclusion and exclulsion. In total 15 participants attended the event, including academics, practitioners, reseach students, as well as inclusion leaders in schools and local councils. Participants were of Roma and non-Roma origin and they shared perspectives from a variety of European countries (including Germany, Greece, Iceland,  Sweeden, the Czech Republic, Romania and the UK) and institutional contexts, including, schools, universisties, musuems and local couincils.

One of the outcomes of this workshop, was the decision to create a network of Roma inclusion research in higher education. It was also agreed that this network will aim to map national and international policies of inclusion and examine national and international reports relevant to the topic. Finally, it was agreed that the network will explore the possiblity of setting up courses on Roma education across the Aurora network and more broadly, and work with outreach officers to explore innovative practices on access.

Dr. Spyros Themelis, who led the workshop, will explore options for hosting a face-to-face meeting at the start of the new academic year. If you have any suggestions or would like to get involved, please email Spyros at: s.themelis@uea.ac.uk.

We welcome contributions from across all Aurora universities.

Mental Health at UEA and UIBK

Written by Emily Reeves, University of East Anglia, BA International Relations and Valerie Bauder, University of Innsbruck, BA Psychology

 

It seems almost obsolete to talk about the importance of friendships and being socially connected for mental health.

During this pandemic, most of us experienced a massive downturn in our social contacts. It is not insignificant that many students feel isolated and therefore more unhappy than before. As social creatures, we strongly crave new friendships, exchanges or even just something as simple as a hug.

Within the Aurora Student Champion scheme, the pen-pal activity connects two Aurora students from different institutions to facilitate the discussion of Aurora topics and events and communication between like-minded individuals. This activity led to the partnership and friendship between myself, Emily (UEA), and Valerie (UIBK). We chose to produce a piece of writing together comparing mental health at our institutions in the UK and Austria. From this, we decided to focus on friendship, how people socialise with one another, and why this is a positive thing.

Due to the pandemic, new students are less likely to meet new people. If they don’t get on particularly well with people they live with, they have no way of meeting other people through clubs, societies, or their courses; this limits their friendships and has arguably negatively impacted students’ mental health and wellbeing. Covid-19’s impact on people meeting others and forming friendships at university is something we were interested in exploring more deeply and comparing how our institutions have decided to tackle the issue.

At UEA, many people use Facebook groups to do things like advertise upcoming events or rooms which are available to rent. This year, there has been a new theme featured in these groups; advertising yourself to try and find friends. The past academic year has been difficult for everyone for various reasons, heavily impacting people’s ability to meet and interact with new people. Friendships at university are essential to good mental health. When students come to university, they establish friendships that encourage socialisation, get them out of their comfort zone, and provide a sense of belonging. Loneliness and alienation at university are detrimental to a student’s wellbeing, especially since mental health is already a big issue amongst them.

Students in university accommodation who have struggled to bond with their housemates have not been given the opportunity to meet new people in the same way as student’s pre-pandemic. In other circumstances, students would meet their housemates, the people living in accommodation around them, their coursemates, and members of societies or clubs. There were endless ways to meet new people pre-pandemic, but in the environment, we find ourselves in now, digitalised communication has been one of the only options. While this does offer a route to make friends, it is not personable. It is difficult to transmit emotions through written messages or over a video chat. Events to meet new people or find potential housemates and student-led programmes to help people settle into university life have provided a few possibilities. However, it is clear that those who started university this academic year have struggled.

In Innsbruck, it is also quite visible that emotional wellbeing has taken a hit during these times. At UIBK, the student counselling has been more sensitive to mental health-related topics noticing that students were increasingly demotivated and sad. On that matter, the ÖH (Austrian Student Union) in Innsbruck did a survey where they asked students about their mental health. Here, for example, they found out that 81% agreed or rather agreed to the statement, “I am currently listless and don’t manage to motivate myself to study very well.” And roughly 73% “agreed” or “rather agreed” to the statement that “The prospect of online lectures and virtual seminars/exercises lower my motivation to study.” And less than half say they felt happy at the moment. As of my own experience of those I heard from, many students felt like they had not much to look forward to, especially during the hard lockdown. Also, many students had to cancel their exchange programs, therefore, missing out on some valuable experiences meeting new people with different backgrounds and cultures. Although it cannot replace the scope of experiences that students would have had by studying abroad, there are possibilities to connect internationally anyways.

Aurora has helped students from multiple institutions come together across a digital space, make new friends, and form new connections. To be able to implement further the opportunity which Aurora presents for breaking traditional barriers to communication could be a great way to address the issues discussed. While we may be moving back to ‘normal’ in the UK with the lockdown easing measures, there are still students who remain away from university, or alternatively, away from their families. International students have travel bans to contend with, and some students may be shielding.

There is potential for Aurora to provide a space to help this in creating a monthly, student-led gathering where people can just talk amongst themselves about whatever they like.

Although the digital world cannot buffer the loss of embraces, it can provide us with a vast number of possibilities to create social interaction spaces. Especially for us students, it is important to discuss study matters, share ideas and perspectives, broaden our mindsets, and promote academic growth. Here, the fundamental principles of Aurora come into play because the organisation was created to help students boost each other’s potential.

Since Aurora should affect every student from every partaking Aurora University, it would be great to initiate a digital space that is free and open for every respective student. Gatherly could deliver such a space. There, among other advantages, break-out rooms can be created conveniently. When people come together to get to know and help each other out, benefits are guaranteed. From academic collaborations to tandem for language learning, everything can be achieved for engaging students. We can learn mutually, learn about other cultures and traditions, and ask for help if we need intellectual input or discover job opportunities and fields that we would not have thought of otherwise. Also, building international connections is not only useful but also important in this day and age. This is not only valuable for later professional life but also to tackle the major problems we are facing.

Of course, human connections are not only significant in professional life. We think that since the pandemic started, people have come to appreciate friendships more than before. Also, the students would welcome such a platform of exchange and would value it even after the pandemic since they have become used to this form of meeting people online.

So, this is why we see a good possibility that such a platform could be well received, and we would love to see friendships building across the barriers which the pandemic put in place, which will hopefully last beyond it.

Manifesto to promote the discussion on R&I issues within the Conference on the Future of Europe and beyond

AURORA has signed and supports the manifesto and call on the Conference on the Future of Europe, European Commission, European Parliament and Council of the European Union to discuss and deepen Research & Innovation issues as a contribution to solving global challenges over the months to come.

Research and Innovation are at the heart of contributing to achieving the green and digital transitions, ensuring a fair, sustainable, competitive and depolarized society and economy, and addressing health and geopolitical challenges. This should be reached in co-creation and co-design with citizens and all actors. Several European and national programmes are supporting this. While the Conference is discussing many themes related to the challenges including education, Research and Innovation risks are being omitted from the discussions. Therefore, we emphasize that Research and Innovation should be even more at the core of the debate on the EU’s future challenges and priorities. For more information, read the full manifesto, being signed by over 65 national and European umbrella organizations representing research and business:

Link 1 and link 2.

The Year 2020: Vrije Universiteit, at the heart of society

Managing partner of the Aurora European University Alliance, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has released their Year in review 2020. In their 2020: Year in review and in their 2020 Annual Report, they reflect on some significant and memorable moments. The year 2020 was exceptional for many reasons. Because of the pandemic, they were forced to work and study primarily online, and to transform into a university that operates at a one-and-a-half-meter distance. It also marked the start of their anniversary year, the Kuyper Year.

The Corona Research Fund, the Athena Institute’s COVID-19 platform, Caring Universities and the free COVID -19 search engine from Findest. These are just a few of the many initiatives that the VU community has introduced, along with partners, during the 2020 corona year. In addition, they had to transform their education into a hybrid format, with an online emphasis. Together, they worked hard in difficult circumstances and showed exceptional resilience, adaptability and commitment.

VU Amsterdam turned 140 in the year 2020. With the Opening Academic Year, they kicked off the Kuyper year with the Kuyper Challenge and with many examples of social entrepreneurship. During the Dies Natalis, Her Majesty Queen Máxima also stressed the importance of entrepreneurship and particularly the role of SMEs. In the year review, Mirjam van Praag, President of the Aurora European University Programme and of the VU Executive Board, also emphasized how Aurora is an opportunity for VU students to gain knowledge and skills to foster social entrepreneurship. VU Amsterdam was also named the most sustainable university in the Netherlands in 2020 and they declared their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020, VU once again demonstrated its position at the heart of society.

Curious about these stories and more inspiring examples from VU in 2020? Read the Year in review ‘VU Amsterdam: at the heart of society 2020’ in English.

Aurora Spring Biannual 21

On May 20 – 21st, the tenth Aurora Biannual took place, where Aurora presidents, students and staff met to learn from and with each other.

The first day began with an opening plenary focusing on the future of academic collaboration between British and other European universities following Brexit. Ms Adrienn Kiraly, Head of the Cabinet to Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Education, Culture and Youth, touched upon our collaborations with other universities and said “Your alliance is already well placed to be a role model for other higher education institutions in Europe and beyond: Your association with three other higher education institutions in Bulgaria, Slovakia and North Macedonia as well as your commitment to developing a capacity development support programme for more than 30 Universities from Central Eastern Europe and neighbouring countries testify for this.” She also highlighted our collaborations with our students by saying: “ I am very happy to see that you have put in place the Aurora Student Champions Scheme in order to ensure student representation in each of your activities.

During the plenary, Paul Boyle (Vice-Chancellor Swansea University and EUA Vice-President) outlined the 7 key points UK universities must address in order to advance in academic collaborations. One of these points is the need for a European wide funding system open to the world. He mentions that universities in the UK feel fortunate to be part of Horizon EU and participate in the vast majority of that scheme. However, there are many other countries from which they could gain value collaborating too. Karine Samuel (Vice President for International Affairs of Université Grenoble Alpes) stressed the importance of international collaboration and how the Aurora collaboration was especially useful in the pandemic by exchanging experiences and best practices with other Aurora universities. Ms Emily Reise from the University of Iceland added a students’ voice and emphasized the accessibility and mobility of students and sees the advantage of short term mobility experiences for students.

After lively parallel session presentations and dynamic conversations, we entered the virtual reception building where Jón Atli Benediktsson (Aurora Network President and Rector of the University of Iceland) welcomed the Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland, Lilja Alfredsdottir. Ms Alfredsdottir believes that the strength of Iceland lies in its international collaborations and that these collaborating networks have ensured that Icelandic research is truly global and ambitious. She says: “No single institution can tackle world challenges on its own but collaboration brings a strength that can be greater than the sum of its parts. With that in mind, the European Commission has focused its recent efforts in higher education on forming strong European University networks capable of producing internationally competent European students, European research, and European solutions”. Jón Atli introduced Ms Anne-May Janssen who will take over from Kees Kouwenaar as Secretary-General of Aurora from July 25th of this year. The reception also welcomed a comedy sketch by comedian Ari Eldjarn. Ari enthused the public with his charismatic interpretations of the many European cultures.

The second day continued with open parallel dissemination sessions and a wrap up of the reports and reflections. President of the Alliance Board Mirjam van Praag shared the accomplishments and challenges of the last 6 months. Among the achievements are the many courses that have been identified to be Aurorarized, a 2-year master program, an international traineeship program, a framework for mobility grant allocation, the 32 students engaged in the Aurora Student Champion Scheme and 15 student ambassadors. Next to accomplishments, Ms van Praag also shared a key concern about the involvement of academics in Aurora and integrating Aurorarized course into existing degree programs.

In total, 25 of Aurora’s active working groups and task teams met during the Biannual, and 7 dissemination sessions informed a wider Aurora audience on aspects of the Aurora programme of activities.

In the wrap-up, it was announced that it is the last term of Callum Perry, initiator of the Aurora student Champions Scheme and that his successor will be elected in the following months. And lastly, Maria José Figueras Salvat, Rector of Universitat Rovira i Virgili, announced that the fall biannual 2021 will physically be organized in Tarragona.