As part of our CESAER Annual Meetings 2021, the high-level conference ‘Academia for the benefit of society - Meeting critical challenges’ gathered representatives from the 53 Member universities of science and technology united within CESAER to explore the role of research, education and innovation for finding solutions to our grand challenges.
An engaging series of talks from a range of speakers representing academia, public policy, industry, and student bodies put universities’ mission to meet critical challenges into perspective and provided vital insights for the future.
The online conference was hosted by Lund University and Vice-Chancellor Erik Renström warmly opened the conference by highlighting how universities are at the centre stage of the future of Europe through research, education and innovation and the European Green Deal.
The conference was moderated by Annika Olsson (Dean of Faculty of Engineering at Lund University) and Mattias Björnmalm (Senior Advisor for Research & Innovation at CESAER) who introduced the first session where the speakers from across the triple helix of academia, industry and government reflected on universities’ mission to benefit society and provided their advice to university leadership towards meeting critical challenges.
Margot Wallström (Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden 2014-2019, United Nations Special Representative 2010-2012 and First Vice-President of the European Commission 2004-2010) spoke about how science diplomacy is a powerful tool to fight a whole range of societal challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, threats to democracy and security, xenophobia, and the questioning of science and facts.
Helen Lawton Smith (Director of Centre for Innovation Management Research, Birkbeck, University of London) explored how our understanding of the role of academia in the triple helix and society at large is changing.
Esben Laulund (Vice President External Collaboration R&D of CHR Hansen) shared experiences from CHR Hansen, a bioscience company which for 4 consecutive years has been listed on Corporate Knights’ list of the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations including ranking first in 2019. He introduced how they collaborate in R&D, with external experts such as universities, to facilitate the development of sustainability-enabling solutions.
To kick-off the second session, Max Lu (Chair of Joint Task Force Key Technologies and Vice-Chancellor of University of Surrey) looked over the horizon to discuss how key technologies are shaping our future, including in our quest towards a sustainable society. He presented key findings of a joint effort between our association and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The student voice was provided by Antonios Bikas (President of the Board of European Students of Technology) and Theo Nyman (President of the Student Union at the Lund University Faculty of Engineering) who focused on the benefits of internationalisation in engineering studies.
The finale of the conference was the announcement of the winner of the €20,000 prize of the Competition Best Idea 2021, in which student-led teams developed their ideas to contribute to ecological, social and economic sustainability. Three outstanding teams presented their ideas in five miniature pitches and interacted with participants via a virtual exhibition.
The distinguished members of the Evaluation Panel of the competition – Amitava ‘Babi’ Mitra (Executive Director, New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA), Sebastian Raneskold (Vice-President and Pro Vice-Chancellor International, Flinders University, Australia) and Bertil Andersson (Former President of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) – shared reflections about supporting and actioning great ideas from ambitious student-led teams.
Mark Zolver (Chair of Workgroup Best Idea) announced the winner of the competition as the Second Hand Mobility team, led by Carlo Schmid from TU Berlin. Carlo and his team developed a conversion kit to electrify Germany's most produced motorcycle of all time: the small and iconic Simson. The user-friendly kit enables anyone to convert a Simson motorcycle to electric in less than one hour.
The team impressed the independent Evaluation Panel with their important and realistic project aiming to facilitate the urgent transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles. They found that the approach could be a crucial contributor for rapidly transforming the motor vehicle fleet in the coming decade.
Rik Van de Walle (President of CESAER and Rector of Ghent University) thanked all participants, reflected on the insights from the day, and closed the conference.