“A gigantic experiment.”
That’s how LiU’s Director of Collaboration Jan Axelsson summarises the work with ECIU University.
ECIU stands for the European Consortium of Innovative Universities. In June of 2019 a network of universities, including LiU, got the green light from the EU Commission to form one of the first European virtual universities. ECIU’s educational programmes are to be interdisciplinary, challenge-driven, and aimed at solving problems formulated by businesses, regional government, and organisations. The focus is on offering courses in the area “Sustainable cities and communities”, which is one of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
“What it comes down to is that we have to listen to those around us, be open to the challenges that exist in society, and to try to provide solutions”, says Jan Axelsson.
A fair bit has happened since the ECIU got going, even if the pandemic threw a few spanners in the works. For instance a pilot course has started up, where the students come from LiU, Stavanger in Norway and Twente in the Netherlands, and the challenge has been devised by four European regions (see article below).
One of the first European University alliances
The EU is investing large amounts of money in building strong university networks which will use innovative educational methods for managing social challenges. ECIU University was one of the first 17 European University alliances; additional have subsequently been approved.
“The difference between ECIU and the other alliances is that we’ve been friends for over 20 years. We know each other well and already have a good collaboration; it’s not just a group that has been put together in conjunction with the application. We’re also all very well established in our regions and cities and amongst local businesses.”
Jan Axelsson points out that several multinational companies, such as Ericsson and Airbus, are also involved in the initiative.
LiU coordinates innovation hubs
Ideas born at ECIU University must also be able to be utilised and commercialised. The three innovation hubs that LiU coordinates, located in Linköping, Hamburg and Barcelona, play a key role. Each of the challenges that the students can select in the various courses has an associated hub.
“They function as our local innovation system, but on a European level. If students and researchers produce some exciting results, there’s support available to move forward with them”, explains Jan Axelsson.
ECIU University is a pilot, which has received funding for three years to start with. After that, he hopes the alliance will have a finished proposal for a new European master’s degree that can be offered to students from all the member universities. And then, support must be gained for the proposal.
“But in 2025 I believe we will have established a new university which we co-manage in some way, and which you can apply to at master’s level”, says Jan Axelsson.
Translated by Martin Mirko
Good ideas from ECIU University will be developed further at one of the three European innovation hubs, located in Linköping, Hamburg and Barcelona, that LiU coordinates.