In the first European Innovation Race – proposals for reinventing universities for sustainable future

Published on February 10, 2021.

On Tuesday, February 9th, the first European Innovation Race took place. The first event was focused on reinventing universities for a sustainable future. International students’ teams worked on three cases, each presented by the different partner university.

The European Innovation Race is an annual event run by the internACTional project, a collaboration between the University of Bergen, University Jean Moulin Lyon 3, Vilnius University, and Knowledge Economy Forum (KEF) in Vilnius as a part of the Erasmus+ strategic partnership.

The first event was organized online. The whole day was based on the methodology of design thinking. Six international students’ groups tried to find the best ways for how universities can respond to the most pressing issues of the time.

The first case on which students were working was led by the University of Lyon Jean Moulin 3 – International students in the COVID-19 crisis. International students are probably the group of students who struggle the most during the pandemic, despite being an integral part of every university. They often feel left out or struggling with the academic workload because they do not have physical interactions or seek support from their peers or teachers. How can universities ensure that international students feel like a part of the university community?

Representatives at University Jean Moulin Lyon 3 were very impressed with the solutions students conceptualized and even noted some ideas for future possibilities within the university’s international relations office. One group proposed an interdisciplinary common course for “local” and international students alike, organized not only by the university’s international relations office but also by the students themselves. For five credits, students who would take this course could share important information about the university and local life. As well as meeting up through mentorship, shared interests, social and extracurricular activities and events. A second group proposed a university-specific app that allows students to create a profile and meet each other based on shared interests. This would let students chat virtually but also arrange events, meet-ups and hangouts in person. Both ideas would certainly combat the isolation international students face, especially during the current Covid19 crisis.

The second challenge was led by the University of Bergen – The traveling scientist. Universities have always been international endeavors. Since the very beginning, students and scientists from across Europe would travel long distances to learn from the best teachers – and each other. Today, this means that universities have a heavy carbon footprint from air travel. So how can we organize international collaboration in a less carbon-intensive way? And how can we introduce slower modes of traveling, for instance, trains, when traveling to conferences or exchange semesters?

Two groups who worked on this case came up with two pretty diverse noble and practical solutions. Both groups remarkably gained a wide overview on different aspects and challenges of the case from different perspectives, through their team work and each chose a particular way to tackle the issue.

The first group presented their innovative idea of building a hybrid workplace in each country as hubs for collaboration between researchers and other partners. The solution focuses on facilitating the local transportation for inland physical gatherings and improving the infrastructures for providing high-quality digital communication with international researchers. The group suggests that the expenses can be funded by states or through reward programs.

The second group formed the idea of providing a user-friendly digital application to motivate scientists choosing greener alternatives for their transportation. The suggested application enables the users to calculate the estimated carbon footprint of their travel and compare the different options. They also suggest a bonus mechanism in their application which encourages the user to choose cleaner means of transport for their future trips.

The third case was led by Vilnius University – Students consciously choosing a study program that is best for them. When entering a university, students have a vast selection of study programs, and most often it is quite difficult for them to decide which one to choose. Often the choice is based on external advice (from older friends and family members) or on the ‘easiest option’, i. e. students choose the study programs that are easier to enter (because of a lower entrance requirement, no entrance exams, etc.). However, a student that later realizes having made a wrong decision, drop-outs from the university causing certain negative outcomes both – for self and for the university. Therefore, the question is: what can be done to encourage students to choose what to study in a more conscious and responsible way?

Great know-how and many feedbacks were collected during this year’s event – they will help improve this event next year and attract an even broader number of students from more universities across Europe.