The intensification of competition in the global world is forcing European universities to look to their future and join alliances to build internationally competitive higher education institutions. Riga Technical University (RTU) is involved in a consortium of European universities supported by the European Commission and together with seven partners forms the European University of Technology (EUt+). This is an opportunity to create a new understanding of the content of studies and their development in Europe, as well as to strengthen the scientific capacity of universities.
EUt+ uniting RTU, Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Technological University Dublin, Polytechnic University of Cartagena, Cyprus University of Technology, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Technical University of Sofia and the University of Technology of Troyes. The goal of the consortium is to create an inclusive higher education association, not an elite one, where everyone can obtain higher education in engineering.
In the long run, the consortium sees itself as a federal entity with relatively close integration – the consortium is a single legal entity with joint finances and common study and research processes. Whether it will be possible depends on three conditions: the capabilities and achievements of the project managers, the governments and international agreements of the participating universities, and the students and staff of the universities – whether they will see the benefits from such an association of universities. For the time being, work is underway to develop joint study programs and coordinate the research process.
In the field of studies, a single European degree is being developed in five thematic clusters – construction, next-generation telecommunications, industrial engineering, mechanics and architecture. It is not just the development of joint study programs but an entirely new concept – the creation of the next generation of study programs with utterly new content based on soft skills, collaboration with the industry, student self-made study cards, ethics, inclusive principles, social dimension, and sustainability. The learning outcomes to be achieved with the new content will be measurable, and all this will lead to the creation of a new, modern degree in higher education.
The consortium is also developing five areas in science by establishing Sustainability Laboratory, Data Science Laboratory, European Culture and Technology Laboratory, Nanotechnology Laboratory, and Laboratory for Pedagogical Initiatives. These areas, similarly to studies, are based on soft skills – inclusive environment, ethics, and ecology.
In the implementation of the joint project, the challenge in studies will be the different approach of each country to the recognition of diplomas. Although the partner countries operate in compliance with the Bologna process with three cycles of education – Bachelor, Master and PhD – the education classifications, degrees and qualifications differ. This is a particular challenge for universities offering professional study programs, as there is no single system for recognizing qualifications among countries, and this problem is particularly acute for engineering students.
A similar challenge will be the accreditation system, which varies from country to country. For example, in one country programs are accredited, in another – study fields, somewhere else – higher education institutions, as it is expected in the future in Latvia. The question of how to ensure in such a situation that the specific diploma is issued in the same way, certifying the acquisition of the relevant accredited program, is open for discussion.
However, in the process of establishing EUt+, small countries can take advantage: we are flexible and able to adapt, which is more difficult for Europe’s traditional universities, which have been shaping their identities for centuries. It is essential for small countries and their universities to look for ways to prove themselves by contributing to a consortium of universities.
After operation for a little over a year, it is difficult to say now what the outcome of this project will be. However, the benefits are already visible. Opportunities have been opened for the internationalization of RTU, and some departments have acquired additional projects due to RTU involvement in the consortium, as participation in the European University Alliance is considered an important aspect in evaluating the European Union project applications. This has also opened up a more comprehensive range of international cooperation opportunities. There is also a sense of cohesion, as colleagues at the university work towards a common goal: the creation of EUt+.
Small universities cannot always compete with large universities, but by merging, they can create an internationally competitive offer and new content in both studies and science. We will see how the performance of EUt+ is assessed in the next few years when the European Commission evaluates the performance of university alliances. EUt+ is working to develop its project further and achieve the goal of a joint university.
Inga Lapiņa (Vice Dean for Academic Affairs at the Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management of Riga Technical University)
Kārlis Valtiņš (Head of the International Projects Unit at Riga Technical University)