Completing the Square

The European Union is giving the EPICUR consortium an additional two million euros funding

Teaching, research, scientific innovation and interaction with society – these are the four core domains captured in the European Knowledge Square, which describes the basic academic activities of the “European University”. Since the end of 2019, the University of Freiburg has teamed up with seven further partner institutions to form the European University Alliance “EPICUR”. The teaching provision in EPICUR is currently being developed using support from an Erasmus+ grant awarded in 2019; now, EPICUR has received a further two million euros from the EU Horizon 2020 funding line ‘Science with and for Society’, so as to engage further with research, innovation and societal interaction, thereby addressing all four corners of the Knowledge Square.  

The current pandemic situation and the related political discussion has clearly shown that a shared European education and research area is essential for the future. Universities bring together a new generation of Europeans. “We want to educate young people to tackle the great challenges facing Europe, across boundaries, across disciplines, cultures and languages,” says Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer, Rector of the University of Freiburg, “European teaching is the basis for strengthening a European identity.”

Life-long learning needs research
To achieve this, the University of Freiburg is cooperating in EPICUR with the following partners: the University of Strasbourg (France), University of Haute Alsace (France), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland), the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Austria), and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece). Central to the vision of European teaching, as conceived of by EPICUR, are a liberal arts and sciences education, digital transformation of teaching formats and expansion of mobility options for students. “It’s also important to us that the fields of innovation and interaction with society are regarded as being as necessary and valuable as research and teaching. And the interfaces between these tasks also present great potential if we think of things like Service Learning, that is, learning through engagement with society, or of practical research,” explains Dr. Verena Kremling, who as head of strategy at the University of Freiburg co-authored the application for the EPICUR Research funding

Supranational topical issues
From January 2021 scientists from various faculties at the eight universities will be invited to network and prepare EPIClusters. The aim is for them to develop projects together in which researchers can work on what are known as EPIChallenges in cooperation with stakeholders from other fields. These include major political and social challenges such as sustainability, mobility, migration and health care, all of which need solutions. “We’re envisaging teams made up of researchers at the early stages of their careers, where possible from all eight universities, but at least from three different countries. These teams will be offered the opportunity to develop approaches and applications for the results of their research together with experts from economics, politics, from government, federations and NGOs,” says Kremling.

Based on the experience gained on projects like this, EPICUR will then submit a full proposal for funding as a European university. The EU’s call for such proposals is expected in 2022. “With the preliminary conceptual work which already involves experimental research formats such as EPICluster, we can gather worthwhile experience and thus improve our chance of full funding,” explains Kremling.

Bringing researchers together digitally
Next year Kremling and her team will be starting to approach scientists actively and advise them with the aim of attracting interest in working on an EPICluster. “Participants will be able to meet at EPICamps we will be organizing, where they can discuss how to shape the work they do together.” As far as possible and worthwhile, there may also be personal meetings, but virtual networking and cooperation will play a major part in EPICUR: the plan is to develop an independent digital social network – which can also be expanded later – for researchers at the eight partner universities. This EPICommunity will not only allow scientists to post individual pages on their work and research results to date, but also information on their social engagement, which can in some fields be equally relevant to future shared research projects.

Expertise from outside
Interaction with society aims to promote and enrich mutual involvement: “We aren’t primarily concerned about researchers presenting their results to the public,” explains Kremling. “We’d rather involve stakeholders from outside academia who are interested in new research outcomes and who have related expertise, for instance in relation to applications, identifying subjects for research, and designing research projects. This may for example be NGOs, authorities, industry or social movements such as Fridays for Future. After all, we universities also need impetus from society, to decide the direction of our research and teaching.”

Annette Kollefrath-Persch


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