On 6, 7 and 8 November, the UAB facilities at its Bellaterra campus and the UAB Casa Convalescència in Barcelona played host to the summit serving as the kick-off of the ECIU University project, one of the 17 international initiatives selected after the European Commission announced a call for European Universities as part of the EU Erasmus+ programme. The project will receive 5 million Euros in funding. The ECIU University project was created by the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU), made up of a total of eleven European universities, and aims to offer an innovative university educational model reaching across borders and based on the involvement of businesses and institutions. The objective is to establish a new concept of international university, going beyond what is Erasmus mobility programmes and international relations, with new academic, research and transfer methods which are more flexible, international and based on the resolution of real-life problems.
On 7 November, the UAB Casa Convalescència held the institutional launch of the ECIU University. During her speech, UAB Rector Margarita Arboix highlighted that this new international university represents "an opportunity to strengthen higher education's commitment to social development". ECIU President Victor van der Chijs emphasised the contribution of ECIU University into European integration and affirmed that with this project "the future of education begins here". Speaking at the event, which was presented by Vice Rector for International Relations Màrius Martínez, were also Teresa Sordé, Professor of the Department of Sociology, and Fernando Vilariño, Professor of the Department of Computer Studies. The ECIU Team Award for Innovation and for Teaching and Learning 2019 were also awarded to two initiatives from the University of Nottingham and the University of Trento. Another kick-off event of all 17 selected European University Alliances took place in Brussels on 7 November as well, to discuss the transformative role of the European Universities initiative for higher education, in the presence of the Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner responsible for Higher Education, and European Ministers responsible for Higher Education.
The ECIU launches this project based on the fact that universities today need to adapt in order to respond to the new challenges posed by societal evolution (the effects of climate change, demographic changes, technological innovations and transformations in the economy, the need for the development of smart sustainable cities, etc.), and which are reflected in the UN's sustainable development goals. The philosophy behind the ECIU University includes having higher education institutions work in closer collaboration with public, private and social agents with the aim of providing more efficient answers to new challenges from the training and innovation field, and at the same time facilitating collaborations among people from all over Europe.
During the following three years, the ECIU University will launch a pilot programme to foster innovative and internationalising teaching methods capable of fluently connecting different areas of knowledge. It will also set up new spaces for equally internationalised research which will open the door to direct collaborations between universities and social and industrial stakeholders. Thus, for example, students will be able to learn by focusing on finding solutions to real problems in society under an educational model developed by different European countries; while at the same time researchers from different countries and areas of knowledge will collaborate directly with institutions, businesses and social entities in projects delivering a greater direct effect on society. The goal is to move from the dynamics of generating knowledge at universities to transferring it to society in a model in which society and industry participate more directly in the co-generation of knowledge and innovation by working side by side with the academic sector.
This first meeting in Barcelona represents the first step in defining the project's pilot programme. With regard to the education sector, it will be based on international mobility and collaborations among universities, and specifically on joint programmes (double degrees, minors, etc.) and micro-credits (short, very specialised training courses), in addition to a common training registry system and a competence “passport” which will provide an individualised account of what each student has learned and the skills acquired. With regard to research and knowledge transfer, a series of living labs will be created in both physical and online spaces where university researchers will work directly with businesses and institutions in the definition and monitoring of projects. Moreover, three Challenge Innovation Hubs will be set up in northern, central and southern Europe. They will be coordinated each by Linköping University (Sweden), Hamburg University of Technology (Germany) and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain).
Members of the ECIU University include the University of Twente (the Netherlands) as coordinating institution, Linköping University (Sweden), Hamburg University of Technology (Germany), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), Aalborg University (Denmark), the University of Aveiro (Portugal), the Dublin City University (Ireland), the Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania), the University of Stavanger (Norway), the University of Trento (Italy) and Tampere University (Finland). Industrial stakeholders include Airbus, Cisco, Engineering Ingegneria Informatica S.p.A., Ericsson AB, Hella Lithuania, Intel, Lietuvos Energija, Lyse Group, NXP, Ponsse, Sandoz Industrial Products S.p.A. Gruppo Novartis, Sick AG, and Suez Environment, as well as in the case of the UAB, the city councils of Barcelona and Cerdanyola.