The European Bioeconomy University (EBU) fully supports the key objectives of the European University Initiative and has been actively contributing to their implementation during the past three years. By joining forces with the European Commission on both the thematic area (Bioeconomy) as well as on the development of the European Higher Education Area, the EBU can increase its outreach and help to enforce the mechanisms to create a stronger European Union. In the current situation, a membership of a University in one of the European University Alliances excludes it from participation in thematically more specific alliances. Here, we offer an alternative approach to deliver structural long-term collaboration between universities within the European Higher Education Area. With this position paper we present reasons why the EBU should be included in the European University community as a recognised alliance.
1. The EBU and its goals
Through their joint commitment to the EBU, the six partner institutions of the EBU Alliance1 agreed to take responsibility as leading intellectual institution for tackling the enormous environmental, economic and societal challenges of the 21st century. As key actor for the green transition and for a more sustainable world, the EBU joins European forces for conducting research to find solutions, in cooperation with industry and society to environmental degradation and climate change. The EBU also ensures to procure climate and environmental literacy for students across all levels and disciplines, as well as for the public at large through community engagement.
In order to achieve the ambitious vision of an innovative, globally competitive and attractive European Education Area by 2025, the EBU has realized from its start in July 2019 that the European excellence in the bioeconomy requires stronger and broader collaboration than usual university cooperation agreements. By bringing resources together both at the political and operational level and by connecting with further academic and business partners (Annex 1), the EBU intends to be a bioeconomy game-changer in the European Union (EU) and a lever for the full deployment of the bioeconomy.
2. Recognition of EBU as one of the flagship initiatives of the European University Strategy
In the wake of the new European Strategy for Universities, the EBU is increasing the visibility of its commitment to the European University Alliances initiative. We would like to point out very clearly that the EBU is ready to fully contribute to the future of higher education in Europe. A statute for the EBU as “Recognised” European University will put the alliance in the position to
- improve our processes for common strategic decisions,
- develop further the alliance and our activities •
- facilitate pooling together resources, activities and data
- contribute to the deployment of the European strategy by implementing its vision and sharing our best practices.
Such statute would facilitate deeper, long-term and flexible transnational cooperation, allowing the sharing of capacities, exchange of staff and the implementation of more joint programmes, with the aim to award joint degrees at the level of the alliance and to contribute to the development of a joint European degree and a European credentials portfolio for all (continuous) learners.
After almost three years, the EBU has reached a point where it both develops shorter-term activities and a longer-term strategy and governance model. While being fully aligned with the vision of the European University Alliances, protecting its integrity appeared as a priority for its founding members. Since the current EBU consortium includes three universities who are already members of existing alliances2, that do not share this bioeconomy focus with the EBU, we decided not to apply to become a selected European University Alliance. The EBU continues to foster its own innovative and flexible mode and seeks recognition as a European University Alliance. We are convinced that our collaboration will remain successful since it started from a common interest to strengthen the circular economy in Europe. The alliance remains open for incorporating additional competences through our collaboration strategy. In the following, we will spell out the EBU’s credentials for the recognition as a truly European University.
3. EBU’s way of meeting the objectives of European Universities
With an already impressive set of projects and initiatives (Annex 2), the EBU significantly contributes to the two main objectives for European Universities and will continue to do so. These main objectives are (1) the promotion of common European values and (2) the strengthening of the European academic competitiveness. In the following, the EBU’s contribution to meeting these objectives will be illustrated.
(1) The promotion of common European values
In times of multiple sustainability crises, the fundamental European values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, and human rights are complemented by the strong commitment to the green transition for a more sustainable world. This is not least reflected by the aims of the European Green Deal or the five EU missions recently announced by the European Commission (EC) that address many of the sustainability challenges. The EBU fully endorses this approach.
As one powerful motor for a green transition, the bioeconomy has been highlighted before by the EU via high-level commission communications and actions. Aiming at the collaborative advancement of the bioeconomy, which is by nature multi-disciplinary and indispensably requires cooperation, the EBU thus provides an ideal arena for innovative international cooperation models and interdisciplinary skills training. Accordingly, the six alliance partners have developed a common long-term vision and mission reflecting the values shared by the EBU (Annex 3). Their integrated strategy determines the roles and responsibilities to ensure the achievement of their goals towards the development of a sustainable and competitive knowledge-based bioeconomy in Europe.
Since its launch, the EBU has successfully improved academic mobility, enhanced scientific exchange, and established programmes and structures that encourage and facilitate student mobility (Annex 3, more specific actions listed in Annex 5). These actions all contribute to build a European sense of belonging and identity.
(2) The quality and competitiveness of European higher education
Apart from its tremendous potential for sustainable development and climate change mitigation, the bioeconomy strongly contributes to socio-economic wellbeing across the EU. It is a proven means to safeguard food supply, provide a “buffer role” for employment – which can be realised in times of crisis – and to provide important potential for the transition to an innovative, resource-efficient, and competitive economy3. The EBU’s aim is to provide an internationally unique and competitive model for a theme-based, system- and future-oriented university that focuses on inter- and transdisciplinary as well as sectoral and European collaboration, which would support the development of bioeconomy in Europe and enhance Europe academic leadership and attractiveness in this sector worldwide.
The EBU has thus become a reference point for European bioeconomy studies internationally and is evolving to a knowledge hub for all issues concerning the transformation to a sustainable knowledgebased and circular bioeconomy. The upgrade of European bioeconomy studies to a highly relevant and attractive future-oriented discipline will inspire young people to enter the academic bioeconomy career.
The EBU offers the required diversity and the necessary commitment to unite the relevant disciplines, as well as a dynamic collaboration model for connecting transnationally education, research and innovation activities. At the same time, the geographical diversity of its partner institutions facilitates its outreach towards national and local societies and economies. The EBU thus provides an encompassing excellencebased offer to the society, including education, research, innovation, entrepreneurship, science & society activities (more concrete examples in Annex 4, more specific actions listed in Annex 5).
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