Since the kick-off in Darmstadt at the beginning of November last year, decisive foundations have been laid, but above all various initiatives and projects have been launched from which students, graduates and teachers have already benefited directly.
UNITE! enables the partners to contribute their respective strengths to the alliance and can rely on many years of cooperation within the CLUSTER network. Above all, UNITE! serves to stimulate new cooperation at different levels. Creating structures is not an end in itself, but is intended to facilitate any cooperation among the partners and also to enable university members of all status groups of the partners to take the initiative in establishing new links with the UNITE! partners, exchanging ideas and initiating projects
“We are committed and enthusiastic pioneers. We are willing to find solutions and pilot activities that address the challenges of implementing the idea of European Universities. We are convinced that UNITE! – and the other university alliances – are a first step in a long-term transformation of higher education in Europe”, said Tanja Brühl, UNITE!’s president and TU Darmstadt’s rector, as one of the 4 invited key testimonials at the first meeting of Rectors of European Universities and Director Generals for Higher Education by the European Commission on November 4th 2020.
The construction of a university network and its opportunities
The essential priorities realised within this year were:
- To set up UNITE!’s overall governance. We started with laying out the UNITE! Charter, inaugurating the UNITE! President and the first convention of the UNITE! Governing Platform in November. Since then we built our governance in further detail. The UNITE! Steering Committee gathers the Secretariat at TU Darmstadt and Key Liaison Officers (KLOs) within each partner university, as well as Task Force Coordinators (TFCs), who meet on a monthly basis
- To establish the meeting patterns at all levels, i.e. the Taskforce Coordinator meeting. The bi-annual UNITE! Dialogues, the main convention for everyone participating in UNITE!, took place twice. Yet, we are also looking ahead to next steps before our second birthday: the first student forum during the 3rd UNITE! Dialogue in March 2021 which guarantees the students an official body beyond their current representation and involvement and the Academic Forum during the 4th UNITE! Dialogue.
- To organise the Task Forces (TFs) of the Alliance as the main engines of UNITE!. Each focus on one area or topic, concentrating on content & innovation, they gather multidisciplinary teams across universities. The Task Forces found their fitting patterns and how to work together best.
- To define the internal processes and structures of each partner university to make UNITE! a priority.
- Set up the main channels and for both internal and external communication and dissemination, with multiple levels of interaction and audiences (at a local level, across TFs, addressed to specific audiences like students, etc.).
- To establish the quality criteria and good practices of the Alliance. We formulated a framework for a common UNITE! Quality Assurance (UNITE! Quality Management Manual). UNITE! has been one of the 4 participants of the EUniQ project, which aims at developing a European approach for a comprehensive Quality Assessment of (European) university networks.
Adaptation potential and leadership in challenging times
Apart from these outwardly visible activities, much has been happening in the background. Especially considering the circumstances we lived in the second part of the project’s current lifetime, UNITE! showed immense adaptation potential. The coronavirus pandemic posed new challenges for higher education, forced to react and adapt in unprecedented speed. Despite these challenges, our partner universities all across Europe, some of them having undergone serious lockdowns, pushed UNITE! further ahead.
Virtual mobility was already a priority in UNITE!’s missions, given its potential and accessibility. Therefore, the pandemic presented an opportunity to actively tackle the current challenges with innovative formats that were either adapted (INSPIRED), or designed from scratch accordingly (Virtual Credit Mobility in Energy). Despite working virtually, and having some partners in serious lockdowns for weeks, we kept our enthusiasm for the vision of UNITE!. This is evidenced by the many actions led by our partner universities to address the pandemic, as well as our increasing attendance in events and growing key staff in each university.
We are looking forward to continuing to walk this path alongside other Alliances to of the European University Initiative to actively shape and transform the European Education Area.