Assert value, be beacons and act as catalyst

It is an empirical fact that competitive and innovative knowledge-based economies flourish in regions and countries with thriving and excellent Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) universities.
16th September 2019
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Apart from pursuing excellence in both basic (scientific) and applied (technological) research, STEAM universities can nurture business environments and contribute to increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The system's capacity to generate applied cutting-edge knowledge in conjunction with companies working within a public-private partnership is the only thing that can limit income growth. Advanced students educated in a thriving environment become international technology leaders thanks to innovative ideas and entrepreneurship models. Therefore, technology and knowledge-based firms are competitive, movable and effective at attracting talent and investment capital. My first editorial message, then, is that STEAM universities must assert their socioeconomic value through recognition by the business environment in which they thrive and public administrations keen to demonstrate to citizens and taxpayers the social and economic payoff of supporting higher education institutions. CESAER can play a powerful role in defining key performance indicators to measure this type of excellence, bearing in mind that no reliable model has yet been adopted for this purpose. It can also establish dedicated criteria to ensure that faculty have the required knowledge and experience with respect to learning and teaching STEAM. Furthermore, employability studies are usually based on graduates' first job, instead of taking into account their long-term lifetime careers, which would perhaps provide a clearer picture of university quality and excellence.

My second message is related to the recently issued Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Perhaps the most relevant conclusion is that it will be extremely hard to achieve a maximum warming of the world’s temperature of 1.5 to 2ºC in compliance with the Paris Agreement (2016). Certainly, all spheres of social and economic life must change to contribute to this goal, but STEAM universities are destined to be beacons of ideas and solutions conceived in university factories and labs, many of which will be disruptive. Similar responsibilities for universities emerge for most, if not all, seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) defined by the UN in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They should be shared by public-private partnerships within which universities participate and be stipulated as binding clauses in their contracts and consortium agreements. As far as I am concerned, this means that discipline learning outcomes and graduate skills must be placed in the context of the challenges the world is facing today. Our current students will be joining the job market by 2025 or finishing their PhD by 2030, and must be prepared to spread a message about the role of engineers and technologists as reliable providers of solutions to social needs with economic impact focusing on people and the environment contributing to achieving the UN SDG. CESAER is an ideal venue for defining this message with respect to traditional and innovative technological tools as enablers for building solutions for people’s health and wellbeing, a cleaner environment, communication, transport, services, etc. Hence, science and engineering programmes must include purposeful transformations focusing on human factors in connection with the technological context implementation of the EU Digital Europe Programme from 2021 to 2027.

In this editorial of the first ever Quarterly Newsletter, I recall the association’s aims to:

  1. learn from each other and share best practice;
  2. influence key bodies: aid policy-makers and funders to shape European policies and funding programmes;
  3. boost participation in (European) funding programmes;
  4. promote our strengths globally;
  5. advance debate on key issues: promote reflection and understanding of the role of science and technology in open knowledge societies.

Working on these aims, CESAER must prioritise and work collaboratively to have impact. As a leading European association with more than one million students currently enrolled at its Members, CESAER represents Europe’s cultural and geographical richness. Many of the scientists and engineers that Europe needs hold our diplomas and are the technology leaders destined to deeply transform our economies and societies. In this context, perhaps the boldest example of university collaboration across Europe is the European Universities Initiative. However, the result of the first call for proposals of this EU action has revealed that there is a lot of room for improvement concerning the participation of STEAM universities. My third message thus brings together the first and second ideas for moving forward: CESAER must champion key points and highlight the uniqueness of our universities, underlining the need for European engineers and technologists as providers of solutions focused on people and the environment working towards the UN 2030 Agenda, the positive contribution of our universities to improve the socioeconomic indicators of European society, and the need to build the concept of the European engineer. For this purpose, CESAER could act as a catalyst for non-trivial changes required in the legal frameworks of the different countries. These legal frameworks are an obstacle to the general concept of European graduates from any, and particularly, STEAM European University consortia.

On behalf of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and calling upon the other fifty-two Members, I pledge our most valuable resources and efforts to rise to the challenges facing society and make CESAER a more powerful and influential association.

Prof. Dr. Guillermo Cisneros
Rector of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

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