Top Regional Challenges in European Higher Education - EWRC side event

As a side event of the European Week of Regions and Cities 2021 (EWRC), the Catalan presidency of the Four Motors for Europe (4ME), in collaboration with the members of the Working Group on Research and Higher Education of our network, organized an online event “Top Regional Challenges in European Higher Education”, on October 13, 2021. In addition to the full member regions of the 4ME, two of the parallel sessions counted also with the participation of the associated region of Wales.

In addition to the institutional interventions, the program of the webinar consisted of a keynote lecture given by Uwe Brandenburg, Managing Director at the Global Impact Institute, the three parallel sessions on Internationalization, Sustainability and Skills, transversally targeting the European Universities Initiative, as well as an intervention of Anna Panagopoulou, Director of the European Research Area of Innovation and Research from the European Commission.

In her welcoming words, Gemma Geis, Minister of Research and Universities of Catalonia, defined universities as important centres to create a more resilient, empowered and better society that will be prepared for the upcoming transformation given by the impact of Covid 19. The minister especially mentioned the value of exchanging experiences in the field of research and education to ensure the long-term competitiveness of Europe. In this regard, she presented the conclusions of a report on challenges of the 4ME in research, prepared by the Catalan Agency for Management of University and Research Grants, according to which our regions have acquired 6,7% of the total Horizon Funds 2020 and have participated in more than 20% of the financed projects.

Yannick Neuder, Vice-president in charge of Higher education, Research and Innovation from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, was positive about the cooperation between the 4ME and also among European states. The vice-president also referred to the new European Universities as the perfect environment to create links among regions.  

The keynote speaker Uwe Brandenburg introduced the audience to the topic of disruptive digitalization in today's international environment based on the results of his research on the effects of digitalization within society. According to him, digitalization is responsible for the increase of opportunities for improving society; for instance, in terms of internationalization, it is now doable without physical mobility. He made a special mention on the role of Universities and how they can connect the international environment with the local society. Furthermore, he demonstrated how High Educational Institutions are líders of actions for change – as an example: the student’s initiative to combat climate change, the impulse Sustainable Development Goals, or the fast adaptation to online learning while the pandemics. He claims that:

Universities need to take bold, transformative and strategic steps rather than cautious ones

Watch the opening session and keynote speech again here.

The core of the session consisted of three parallel sessions (break-out rooms) where the participants were divided into their fields of expertise. The conclusions of this session were presented by Gorka Knörr, the Representative of the Government of Catalonia to the European Union, in the Wrap-up session.

Session 1 – Internationalization (video not available)
The first session was on the topic of Internationalization and had the title Academic Year 21-22: “New paths to explore” the importance of this topic was the current port-covid societal changes and the adaptation to those by the  Higher Education Institutions. The panel included different examples of how Universities in Europe are implementing new strategies to face mobility restriction, mobility sustainability and internationalisation at home and of the surrounding community. During the session, the participants remarked on the importance of international cooperation on a physical but also on the online level. They all agreed that internationalization is a basic element to understand diversity, an element that facilitates and enhances the transmission of knowledge and can be a part of the solution to the current global problems.

Session 2 – Sustainability (watch again)
The session on Sustainability presented the title of The imperative to transform through SDGs: how, who? The session reflected the accelerated transformation of both society and Higher Education Institutions. New priorities include building and strengthening partnerships with their regional ecosystems. Universities can contribute to achieving sustainability in several ways: by education, by research and by acting as role models for society. The participants identified which were the current challenges related to sustainability. These challenges include the lack of funding and the lack of awareness but also the danger of greenwashing, the challenge of being coherent and the gap between universities and theirs surrounding ecosystems. 

Session 3 – Skils (watch again)
The third session focus on the development and the future of Skills and had the title of The imperative of reskilling (ERA– EHEA). The panel aimed to find synergies between the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). After the different interventions from the participants, the conclusion was that the drivers of change are coming from inside and outside the HEIs (High Education Institutions). Therefore it is important to create and promote flexible and interdisciplinary platforms where different cultures and knowledge merge and generate innovation. The platforms need to adopt a challenge-based approach to education and combine it with real-life examples to engage students to be the focal actors for a change in the economy and in society.

The webinar continued with the intervention of Anna Panagopoulou from the European Commission. In representation of the institution, Mrs. Panagopoulo mentioned that Universities are a key actor for change towards innovation and technology in this new digital decade,  while at the same time they provide new methods to accomplish the goals of the EU Green deal and the new industrial strategy.

This is the moment when universities are developing and transforming towards the future

To excel these practices, the EU Commission proposes the creation of new programmes under the Erasmus + framework and announced the spend of 35 billion euros to research and innovation actions including also activities in universities. An interesting point is that the new policy has been created in very close communication with regional institutions like the Four Motors for Europe.

In their closing statements, Hans Georg, Head of Unit in the European Union and Cross-Border Cooperation at the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of  Baden-Württemberg, together with Alan Christian Rizzi, Undersecretary for Relations with International Delegations from the Lombardy region, both emphasized the importance of networks, like the 4ME, to work on a european level in the search for new idees. For Hans Georg, online events such as this one pushes us forward, but are also a wake up call, since in normal condition it would be in-presence meeting. In this line, Alan Christian Rizzi, underlined the number of online meetings and events we’ve had in the 4ME since the start of the pandemics, on a number of topics. We must continue in this direction, exchanging as much information as possible, and as the regions of the 4ME, we must be up-standard in our activities.

Watch again the intervention from the European Comission, parallel sessions’ wrap-up and closing statements here.

EWRC 2021 Four Motors for Europe Side Event