from June 17, 2024 to June 30, 2024
Published on June 19, 2024 Updated on June 20, 2024

The EUTOPIA Week in Cluj is rolling

©Cristian Muntean, UBB

Babes-Bolyai University is hosting the ninth EUTOPIA Week, the bi-annual gathering of the Alliance’s decision-making bodies since 2019, in the city centre of Cluj-Napoca from June 17 to 20, 2024.

Cluj-Napoca, 19 June.—If a traveller from a region where the term “alliance of European universities” had never been uttered and found himself at Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca (UBB) surrounded by rectors, vice-rectors, deans, professors and students from nine other European countries as well as from Australia, South Africa, Morocco and Colombia—not to mention the infinite variety of origins of every one of them—his capacity for astonishment would be exhausted at the mere sight of this distinguished and highly professional humanity. The series of sessions that followed the solemn opening ceremony on Monday, June 18, at a marathon pace would have finished giving this imaginary traveller the idea that he was immersed in a congress of specialists examining a biologically complex body with abstract and intricate issues that have little in common with the lives of ordinary beings. Let’s, however, put ourselves in the shoes of this traveller and give the reader a shallow idea of what a European alliance project is in the making, reporting on one of the all-too-rare opportunities we have to learn how teams scattered across the ten corners of Europe have chosen to deepen the difficult task of bringing highly-learned people together, interacting and transforming European higher education institutions with the collaboration of global partners.

The first public session in Cluj on Monday, June 17, showcased the achievements over the last half year by the six-working package (WP) leads of the Alliance’s flagship project, EUTOPIA MORE, and the challenges that EUTOPIA has been facing for the months to come. In front of a room full of presidents, vice presidents and leads of the Alliance’s programmes and projects, the Secretary-General, Mattia Bellotti, escorted by six vice presidents and the general coordinator, Lucía Conte (Pompeu Fabra University-Barcelona), set the scene by explaining that the administration of the MORE project was increasingly merging with the Alliance’s generic goals and that the complexity of the actions carried out under EUTOPIA in all the universities is already requiring new monitoring mechanisms and the alignment of the progress and quality KPIs of the multiple strands of work. Both stressed that EUTOPIA is not two, three, four or five EU-funded parallel projects but one coherent group of institutions willing to evolve together. To understand the MORE project, they proposed a comprehensive “from the shell to the substance” exercise, starting from broad and overarching working packages (WP) such as management and dissemination, moving towards those with operational responsibility at the core of the Alliance. 

Luciana Radut-Gaghi, vice-president of CY Cergy Paris Université, took the floor highlighting the centralised communications of EUTOPIA, including the recent release of the EUTOPIA Review’s first issue, before outlining the two other ambitions of this WP: the strategy for impact advancement, and the definition of a science diplomacy specialisation for EUTOPIA, through a series of eight seminars on the topic. In science diplomacy, EUTOPIA’s original path is exploring the resources that universities possess and those that we need to conceive in order to position universities as crucial players in international and regional relations. Balint Marko, vice-rector of UBB, head of the EUTOPIA_HEALTH project and the coordinator with his team of this vibrant EUTOPIA Week, presented then the Facilitating Connectedness WP, for which UBB is responsible. The complexity of this task, which consists of proposing transversal solutions to groups who would not find them spontaneously, reveals that the WP is like blood circulating in a living body, which does not attach to any muscle or bone, specialises in no task but nourishes and oxygenates them all. What is their main challenge? To be even more fluid and have greater access to corners that do not yet seem sufficiently irrigated. He was followed by Pedro Saraiva, vice-rector of NOVA University Lisbon in charge of innovation, who reported on the WP coordinated by his university: providing tools to the Alliance and enhancing the visibility of EUTOPIA on its campuses. Tools seem to be the most straightforward part to put in place: it’s about deciding how we measure what we do, and he finds there, quite naturally, a deep affinity with the central project coordination as with other working groups. Together, they should design and monitor the sensors to provide accuracy and transparency for all. Regarding visibility, the audience was required to understand that it has little to do with what communication takes care of—by displaying and publishing on its platforms, for example, the EUTOPIA Talks in Cairo at the initiative of NOVA, but rather to invent new mechanisms to suffuse communication work with inexhaustible reserves of strength.

The following presenters illustrated the engine room of this great ship, where the energies of teachers and researchers ignite thanks to the colossal efforts deployed by the inseparable Rosette S’Jegers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Jo Angouri (University of Warwick), creators of a solid network of Connected Learning, Research and Integrated Communities who today bring the Alliance to life by binding its superstructure to academics, students and researchers that pool their knowledge and create joint activities. They identified that this core machinery needs some support to keep running: recognition, funds, interfaces, and visibility. The last presenter, Roland Hinterholzl (the rector’s delegate at Ca’Foscari University of Venice), described for an attentive audience the other essential effort of the Alliance, “connecting ecosystems.” This action seeks to tighten the EUTOPIA’s links with their regions and European authorities while fostering a harmonious association with the global community, comprising six partners across four continents outside of Europe. The speaker identified some efforts still to be made to measure and assess the transformation of the involved universities.

If a traveller from distant lands had the time to understand why European universities came together to undertake such complex and ambitious tasks, he would likely conclude that the 4-year journey of the EUTOPIA Alliance, as one of the 50 consortia formed and funded by the EU so far, is a step toward ensuring the sustainability of a new model and that in a short period, EUTOPIA’s progress of the EUTOPIA MORE project shows assurance for unwinding better global visibility and relevance in the future for all its universities.