28 September 2020

Two LiU students, Maria Lokat and Markus Pettersson, are taking the first course to be given by the virtual university ECIU. Together with students at universities in Twente and Stavanger, they will seek smart solutions for sustainable transport.

Two students, Maria Lokat and Markus Pettersson, looking straight into the camera.
Maria Lokat and Markus Pettersson Charlotte Perhammar
ECIU, The European Consortium of Innovative Universities, received the green light from the European Commission in June 2019 to start the first European virtual university. The university has been charged with providing education that is interdisciplinary and challenge-driven, and that contributes to solving societal challenges. The first course is now up and running in September 2020, based on the InGenious eight-credit course previously given at LiU.

“What’s really exciting is that four regions have together come up with a challenge that our ECIU students are getting to grips with”, says Jan Axelsson, director of collaboration at LiU.

One of the universities, the University of Aveiro in Portugal, was, however, compelled to withdraw at the last minute.
“This was a shame, but we’ve just had the first meeting with students in Twente, and will be meeting the students in Stavanger soon. And I’m really struck by how multidisciplinary the group is”, says Markus Pettersson.

Broad competence

His own background includes a master’s degree in economics with a subsidiary in French, and he is now taking a master’s in IT and management. Maria Lokat is taking the master’s programme Energy, Environment, Management, while one of the two students from the Netherlands is studying mechanical engineering, the other psychology. They haven’t met the Norwegian students yet, but from what they’ve heard they will broaden the knowledge and expertise of the group even more.

The project they have just started has been given the name “STIRR, Smart Transport in Rurban Regions.”
Markus Pettersson, LiU student, talking to Maria Lokat who i shown from behind in the left corner.Markus Pettersson. Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar“The word ‘rurban’ is formed from ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ together, and refers to the challenge of establishing satisfactory transport between town and country that is economically viable. What’s amazing is that this is a project that can deliver real benefit and contribute to making the world slightly better”, says Markus Pettersson.

In collaboration with regions

Both the InGenious course and the pilot course now being given by ECIU have an external client who is also recipient of the ideas and suggestions that arise during the course. The client can then choose whether to pay for the rights to the ideas or allow the students themselves to take them further. The clients in this case is this case are the three regions in which the universities are active. For Maria Lokat and Markus Pettersson, the client is Region Östergötland.

“We will start by contacting the relevant region to discover what the greatest challenges are: what works well and what can be improved. Then we will compare with the others and see whether there are any common challenges that we can solve. We will look at what the regions can learn from each other”, says Maria Lokat.
A portrait of  Maria Lokat, sitting on a chair.Maria Lokat. Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar“I’m really looking forward to the brainstorming sessions, where we develop new ideas and come up with innovative solutions.”

The students take compulsory courses at their home university, with the possibility of participating remotely in courses at the other universities. Maybe the greatest challenge will be that they will not physically meet each other – at least not until the final reporting and end of the course, which, if all goes to plan, will take place in Studenthuset at LiU on 11 December.

Ingenious as a model

“We really hope that the others can come here then: it would be amazing. We’ve all become accustomed to digital meetings during the corona pandemic, and I did my degree project completely remotely during the spring. It worked great”, says Markus Pettersson.

The ECIU pilot course follows the course syllabus that LiU has used for several years for the eight-credit InGenious course, otherwise known as the “Cross Disciplinary Project”.

“It’s both exciting and challenging to get a course running from three different universities. There’s a lot we can learn here about how to operate a virtual university”, says Fredrik Borgsjö, who from the start has been the driving force behind the InGenious course, which is now owned and operated in collaboration with Almi Östergötland.

“It’s an honour to be able to take the first course within the ECIU university and to be something of a guinea pig. We want to make a success of this, and not just write a report that gets filed away in some archive”, says Maria Lokat.

In addition to STIRR, nine other multidisciplinary projects are being conducted within InGenious this year, with students from various educational programmes at LiU.

Read more about STIRR

Translated by George Farrants.


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