University of Bergen’s Arqus team, assembled in October 2020, the first and to date only physical meeting of the team (some members of the team, that counts 60 persons, are absent from this picture). 
Photo credit: Arqus/University of Bergen
European Universities: Council Conclusions and Perspectives from a Norwegian Partner 
By Iben Dahl

The European Council on 17 May adopted conclusions on the European Universities initiative - Bridging higher education, research, innovation, and society: paving the way for a new dimension in European higher education. With it, the Council designates the European Universities an important role to reach the EU's research, innovation, and education objectives. What does it mean in practice?

Let's turn back the clock a few years. The European Universities initiative responds to the Council's conclusions from December 2017, when it was agreed that member states, the Council and the Commission should strengthen "strategic partnerships across the EU higher education institutions and [encourage] the emergence by 2024 of some twenty 'European Universities". Hence, European Universities are bottom-up networks of universities across the EU, that will enable students to obtain degrees by combining studies from across EU countries, effectively boosting the international competitiveness of these universities.

- The European Universities Initiative may act as a game changer for higher education in Europe, and we are therefore pleased to have five Norwegian higher education institutions already participating in the initiative, says Councellor for Education at the Mission of Norway to the EU, Hege Landmark-Høyvik. The European Universities initiative finances 41 alliances in total. 

Now, what does a European University look like? We talked to one Norwegian partner university:

- The Council Conclusion underlines the members states’ support for the initiative. Norway supports the European Universities Initiative, and the Ministry of Education and Research is in dialogue with the Norwegian partners to identify national obstacles for deeper cooperation in the European Universities, Landmark-Høyvik told NorCore. 

- Arqus works across six Action Lines: Widening Access, Inclusion and Diversity; Student-centered Frameworks for Quality Learning; Multilingual & Multicultural University; Entrepreneurial University and Regional Engagement; Research Support and Early Stage Researcher Development; and Engaged European Citizens, Katrine Moland Hansen explains. 

The alliance was in 2019 among the 17 first initiatives funded in the three-year pilot call for European University Alliances within Erasmus+. The alliance has a longer time perspective, however:

- We are looking at Arqus as a long-term undertaking. We have a mid-term evaluation now, but we will learn from our experiences to set the direction for Arqus in the future, Moland Hansen says. We have learnt a lot from our experience in Arqus so far.

Integrating research and education  

High on the Commission's agendas for education and R&I is the objective of promoting synergies between research, innovation, and education. Synergies also occupy an integral role in the Council's latest conclusions on the EUI more specifically, as these should be created e.g. between the higher education dimension of the EEA, the ERA and the EHEA. Moland Hansen explains how this is manifest in Arqus' approach:

- We strive to integrate students in research as part of their studies.  

Moland Hansen cites the alliance's winter school as one important venue for this involvement: A one-week intensive session for students enrolled in the seven Arqus universities, which is part of the broader undertaking "Engaged European Citizens", one of the six Action Lines in Arqus. The winter school kicks off a challenge-based learning programme that runs throughout the semester, in which students conduct their own research projects in groups at their universities. 

- Through this learning programme, we have integrated research and education in a way that clearly benefits students, Moland Hansen says. 

Elaborating on this year's winter school, "Rethinking Climate Risk", she also cites how the cross-disciplinary approach brought some interesting perspectives:

- We had more than 20 researchers representing a wide range of disciplines. Seeing how different disciplines relate to these complex challenges was highly interesting, she says. Relatedly, the geographical dimension of European Universities also proved fruitful in this context, as it gave access to perspectives from across seven different localities:

- It enabled us to see how climate related challenges are very context-dependent: Climate changes occurring in Granada will look quite different than the ones in Bergen, for instance. 

Arqus' efforts to build down barriers between research and education also manifests on an institutional level:

- We have been conscious not to set up parallel structures for the funding from Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+, Moland Hansen explains. Although Arqus has primarily been financed within Erasmus+, the European university has also received support from Horizon 2020. 

- I think that’s important: That education and research efforts are organized within the same structure, Moland Hansen concludes. 

- Ambitions must be accompanied by funding 

Whereas research and education are increasingly seen as two sides of the same coin from Brussels, European Universities are also conceived of as an important tool for realizing ambitious objectives within said fields. Correspondingly, the Council with its conclusions encourages member states and the European Commission to ensure the European Universities initiative underpins the processes to achieving both the European Education Area (EEA) by 2025, and the European Research Area (ERA).

To make these objectives feasible, member states are asked to utilize existing funding opportunities to support the initiative; ranging from the post-crisis Recovery and Resilience Facility through the European Structural and Investment Funds to Horizon Europe, to mention a few. Moland Hansen mentions how appropriate funding is necessary to deliver on the initiative's encompassing ambitions:

- The European Universities are conceived of as being an implementation tool for very many objectives. Therefore, it is important that these ambitions are accompanied by appropriate funding, Moland Hansen says. Relatedly, she also pinpoints allowing for diversity among alliances, and the ability to focus, as an important asset that must be cultivated, shall the European Universities succeed:

- I think the ability to select focal areas must be protected. Hence, we also need to be able to work as bottom-up alliances based on the priorities of our institutions.

Although fruitful, there are challenges to overcome:

- We are extremely ambitious, she said.

Mobility in a post-pandemic Europe

Another important challenge, unsurprisingly, has been to implement Arqus amid a pandemic.  Whereas Covid-19 has made digital meetings and events the rule rather than exception over the last year and a half, this clearly constitutes an impediment on the European Universities' objectives. With the current rollout of vaccines, however, there is hope for more physical mobility in a not too distant future: 

- We look forward to seeing Arqus develop even more after the pandemic has ended, Moland Hansen says, citing how student and staff exchange is an integral part of the alliance's operation. The European Universities aims to facilitate the seamless mobility between institutions for students, staff, and researchers, for the purposes of training, education, and research. 

Relatedly, the Council also calls for efforts to remove barriers to cooperation between higher education institutions, education authorities and stakeholders to be strengthened, e.g. through exploring "(…)the need and feasibility" for joint European Degrees, within the alliances. For the same reason, quality assurance and automatic mutual recognition in higher education should also be improved through further European cooperation. 

Experiences and lessons from the European Universities are currently being assessed in a mid-term evaluation by the Commission. Simultaneously, the Commission also consults stakeholders, in preparation of the full-fledged roll-out of the initiative.

European Science Associations Call for Swiss Full Association to Horizon Europe  

15 European STI councils, advisory bodies, and other science organisations in an open letter call for the EU to include Switzerland as a fully associated country to Horizon Europe, the EU's €95.5 billion framework R&I programme. Switzerland, like Norway, has participated in the EU's R&I framework programmes since the 1980s. 

Citing the country's substantial scientific resources, the signatories warn that a degradation of Switzerland to a Third Country would "(…)severely limit its expertise being brought into Horizon Europe projects tackling today’s and tomorrow’s global challenges". Moreover, considering both an increasingly more multipolar world in which global competition in R&I is surging, and the challenges posed by Covid-19 and climate change, Europe should "stand together and unite its forces". The rejection of Switzerland as a fully associated member more generally would impede on the strength of the European Research Area (ERA) as a whole, they say.

To this, the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) added on Friday 11 June that Switzerland should also be associated to the EU's education framework programme, Erasmus+. Switzerland has been out of that programme since 2014. ACA argues that Swiss exclusion from the programme limits academic mobility and the exchange of educational expertise in Europe, and warn this would hamper academic cooperation in Europe "at all levels", since parallel arrangements are challenging to work with for both students, staff, and higher education institutions.

As pointed out by ACA, Switzerland's association to Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe has unequivocal backing from the Swiss higher education community, and the Swiss parliament now calls on the Federal Council to start negotiations to secure full Swiss association to Erasmus+.

Inside the EU, negotiations about Swiss participation have been ongoing this spring as EU protectionists have warned that Swiss and other non-EU members' participation in the EU's quantum and space research projects would threaten the EU's strategic technological assets. EU member state representatives and the European Commission last week reached a deal that allows Switzerland, together with countries like Israel and the UK, to participate in these programmes if they can sufficiently guarantee the EU's strategic assets are protected. More here.

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Norwegian Parliament Approves Proposal to Join Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe in 2021-27
25 May 2021

The Norwegian Parliament on 25 May formally decided that Norway will participate in Horizon Europe, the world's biggest programme for research and innovation, and Erasmus+, the EU's programme for education, training, youth, and sport.

The approvals succeed two respective proposals by the Norwegian Government in April, when it was agreed to apply for inclusion in the programmes through the EEA agreement, which regulates Norwegian participation in the EU's programmes. 

As to the R&I programme Horizon Europe, the projects that include Norwegian participants have a total value of more than 100 billion NOK and will provide Norwegian agents with access to research and innovation that exceeds the Norwegian fee more than seven times. Meanwhile, Erasmus+ is the world's biggest education programme, and enables mobility and cooperation in education across all stages of the course of education.

One final step remains, however, namely the final approval by the EEA committee, which is scheduled to take place this summer. The programme will then apply retroactively from 1 January 2021.


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The Innovation Speech 2021 

- A lot is happening, and it happens now. We have a solid basis; but a solid basis is not enough. 

This was how Innovation Norway's CEO Håkon Haugli summed up the status for innovation and exports in Norway in the 2021 edition of the annual Innovation Speech. A main message was that crisis has spurred extraordinary innovation and transition:

"The crisis year 2020 brought us more, not fewer, enterprises, Haugli pointed out.  

Among these, many have digital and green components, Haugli said, and moved to cite how plans for a green transition have been developed in both the US, in Asia, and in the EU through the Green Deal, posing substantial market opportunities for Norwegian comparative advantages. Haugli cited Norwegian know-how within oil and gas, strong renewable sectors within hydro, wind and solar PV, and a pioneering role within electrification of transports.

- No other country knows energy like us. 

Areas in which Norway must step up efforts also occupied a center role. One of these were the need for digital transformation: The use of advanced, enabling technology, artificial intelligence, big data and robotization. Likewise, global climate policies command that Norway, like other countries, accelerates its creation of green jobs, exports revenues and enterprises. 

- Implement "missions" in Norway 

According to the tradition, the speech was rounded off with a handover of Innovation Norway's recommendations to the Ministry. Among them was a call to look to the EU:

- Our fourth recommendation is to implement "missions" in Norway. That goes to municipalities, regions, state enterprises and the authorities, Haugli said. 

- When public authorities set concrete targets, new markets are opened for business, Haugli said, and referred how missions are bold and measurable innovation undertakings. Originating from economist Mariana Mazzucato, the concept of missions employs a challenge-based approach to innovation that is now being implemented by the EU in its 2021-27 Horizon Europe programme. 

Haugli posited that both Norwegian success with implementing electric ferries and the encompassing efforts to meet acute needs caused by the pandemic in 2020, prove Norwegian experience with working through a mission-oriented approach.

The Innovation Speech is Innovation Norway's biggest yearly event. Read the full speech, and all IN's recommendations to the Ministry, here

NorCore Event: Global Cooperation Within Research, Innovation, and Education 
Upcoming event

The EU presented this spring a new strategy for global cooperation within research and innovation. Global cooperation was an important topic in both the EEA and ERA communications from 2020, and both Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe have important global components, and some new elements from 2021. 

NorCore on 21 June organizes a webinar, to explore how synergies can be advanced between the EU's and national schemes for global R&I cooperation. We will also address how Norwegian participation in global EU cooperation can be increased. 

NorCore | Rue du Trône 98, B-1050 Brussels | Tel: 0032 2 549 09 96 | Fax: 0032 2 549 09 89

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