AUAS: Universities play a key role in driving EU climate transition

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Nearly 200 people from 10 countries across Europe convened in Amsterdam from 30 May – 2 June for the annual event for the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences’ European network of universities of applied sciences, U!REKA. This event focused on the shift needed for a sustainable future and drew some high profile attendees, including the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam responsible for Sustainability, Circular Economy, as well as representatives from EURASHE and UAS4EUROPE.

The Urban Research and Education Knowledge Alliance (U!REKA) was founded by the AUAS. Six key partners work together on education and research projects with a growing network of associate partners across Europe. U!REKA Connects is hosted by a different partner each year, with the 2023 edition held on the Amstel Campus. This highly anticipated gathering is a prime opportunity for strengthening existing partnerships and forging new joint activities.

Shifting to a climate-neutral Europe

Under the theme ‘Let’s Shift’, the event drew attention to U!REKA’s European Universities (EUI) ambitions. Earlier this year, the network submitted a proposal to the 2023 EUI call. This aims to turn the alliance, together with 24 associated partners, into a European University Network with a common vision of climate neutrality and beyond.

AUAS Rector and U!REKA Steering Committee Chair Geleyn Meijer opened the event on the Amstel Campus along with special guest Zita Pels, Deputy Mayor for the City of Amsterdam responsible for Sustainability and Circular Economy.

Geleyn Meijer: ‘Amsterdam is part of a movement of Dutch cities committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2030. And we also match this ambition with other cities in Europe as we work together on education and research with our growing U!REKA network. Universities of applied sciences are a bridge between knowledge and society and this is increasingly recognised on a European scale’.

Zita Pels: ‘It is heartening to see the role the universities in U!REKA are taking to help the climate transition. I believe that universities of applied sciences play a key role in this endeavor, as they possess knowledge, networks, innovation capacity and expertise to help drive the climate transition. Climate change knows no borders, and its impacts are felt globally. By collaborating on a pan-European level, we can learn from one another's experiences, share best practices, and inspire one another to push the boundaries of what is possible’.

Student board

U!REKA’s plan to establish a Student Board was announced by HOGENT President Koen Goethals and student representative Roxanne van de Voorde. ‘U!REKA’s ambition is to educate, shape and deliver the European professionals of tomorrow. What better way to reach this goal than by involving the students themselves? Student participation encourages democracy and stimulates the growth of skills necessary for a true European professional,’ says Roxanne.

European advocacy

U!REKA Connects has evolved since its first networking event in 2015, which was primarily an internal event for administrators and colleagues involved in internationalisation policy. This year, the event opened its doors to external stakeholders such as EURASHE (the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education) and UAS4EUROPE. These are the two major advocacy groups representing the interests of hundreds of universities of applied sciences (UAS) in Europe.

Tim Uebelen, who works at UAS4EUROPE and the Bavarian Research Alliance (BayFOR) GmbH, joined U!REKA’s Steering Committee to discuss the latest EU policy developments and how U!REKA can contribute to strategic European topics such as the Innovation Agenda, Skills Agenda, Green Deal and the EU Missions. EURASHE’s Jakub Grodecki offered insightful advice on how to move forward if the EUI bid is successful. A forward-focused session led by EUI coordinator Mona Roman from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Finland saw the U!REKA working groups outline the next steps for the network if its U!REKA SHIFT bid is selected for funding, which should be clear by end of June.

Festival of expertise

The diverse programme at U!REKA Connects spanned campus tours, presentations, storytelling sessions, workshops, LEGO serious play, panel discussions, a boat trip, an inspiration market and more. Experts and students from across Europe shared their insights on a variety of topics, from waste separation to low-carbon energy systems, urban biodiversity, doughnut economics, studying with a disability, integrating the arts in programming, human-capital in Ukraine, COIL projects, first-generation students and much more. Lively debates brought the shared values as well as the urban differences within our European network to the surface.

‘U!REKA really is a festival of expertise. If I look at all the sessions, the experts, the panel discussions - they show that we are very knowledgeable. We inspire each other, we are a group of experts on what the future of education and research could be like. We make an impact on those around us,’ said AUAS Rector Geleyn Meijer during the closing ceremony.

‘Around 75 people were directly involved in putting on the event, either as presenters, workshop hosts, speakers or tour guides. This truly shows the U!REKA spirit and collaborative nature of our network. Thank you to everyone who participated and we’ll see you next year for U!REKA Connects 2024 hosted by VSB - Technical University of Ostrava,’ says Dymphna Snijders Blok, U!REKA Coordinator at AUAS and organiser of U!REKA Connects 2023.

This article was first published on 5 June by AUAS.

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