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Executive Board column: Working on internationalisation with European universities

Our university recently joined the European university alliance Una Europa. Staff from the 11 affiliated universities met in Leiden last week to discuss our collaboration. It was a most inspiring event and I met lots of people from other universities.

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What makes them enthusiastic? What challenges do they face? Building a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s Hester Bijl’s turn.    

Una Europa, which was founded in 2019, is working on a ‘multi-campus’ university that will run right through Europe. This ‘University of the Future’ will be international and interdisciplinary and will aim to solve problems in society, both within and outside Europe. Una Europa’s focus areas are One Health; Sustainability; Cultural Heritage; Future Materials; Europe and the World; and Data Science and Artificial Intelligence.

We have been a member of Una Europa for a relatively short time, so I thought it a good idea to meet here in Leiden. This made it easy for our own people to take part and for the other universities to get to know us better. Being here meant they could really experience Leiden University. We hold this meeting, the General Assembly, twice a year, at a different university each time.

European bachelor

At the meeting we discussed important developments in Europe, one of which is internationalisation. The European universities want to work together in research programmes and to offer joint courses and programmes. The multidisciplinary Bachelor’s in European Studies, for example, which started last September. This really is a unique collaboration in Europe. Another bachelor is also being developed in the field of sustainability.

A European bachelor’s programme like this is a fantastic experience for students. They follow different semesters of courses in different European cities and are therefore taught by lecturers from many different universities. They are also in a class with students who are from other cultures and have different perspectives. By giving students a good education, we as Europe are taking significant steps on topics such as sustainability and European studies. I truly believe in that.

Another good example of internationalisation is an interdisciplinary training programme that is being developed for young researchers. PhD candidates can gain experience in working with researchers from other universities who don’t work in the same discipline. This is how innovative projects come about. We are also working hard on joint research proposals for the EU.

Better research and teaching

Our partnership with Una Europa will enable us as a university to do even better research and teaching. It is a network of excellent universities that do powerful research and that we’ve already worked together with a lot for a long time and are a bit like us. It was decided last week to free up more money for seed funding grants to support new joint initiatives from existing partners and to allow new ones to join us.

Besides collaboration within the European campus, Una Europa focuses on the rest of the world. We discussed Africa a lot at the meeting as a priority within this focus and how to shape collaboration with the continent together with partners there. Young researchers are an important priority within these ambitions.

Share your thoughts or experiences by sending an email to h.bijl@cvb.leidenuniv.nl.

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