KTU Rector Eugenijus Valatka: the future trend in education is the new European university

ECIU | 2020-09-23

In today’s context we can see that the challenges we are facing are affecting not only us, or other countries in Europe but all the world. This means that we can only solve them by taking decisions together. Problems are becoming more global, challenges are borderless: states are joining into unions, organisations are networking, while industry and business are increasingly tackling problems with partners from different spheres. Understandably, the higher education sector is also changing.

We need different skills to adapt to change and to find the best solutions. Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) together with other 12 research and study institutions from different countries created a future university – ECIU University – to combine the resources and potential, and to create a joint European university that is competitive globally.

Such university is more important than ever – we can hear talks about the alleged inaction or even imminent collapse of the European Union (EU). To create a different university, we need the full support of both European and national authorities to secure sustainable funding for research and studies.

Today’s challenges have no borders

Competition in higher education is enormous. The US, China, India and other Asian countries invest a large amount of money in this field. Therefore, Europe must to keep up to remain competitive.

It is important to adapt to change in today’s fast-paced world: find solutions to complex problems that require different skills. The study process has also changed. Students do not wait to gain knowledge to solve a challenge; they get a task and immediately search for information and improve their skills while solving a problem. This process is called the challenge approach used by the most innovative universities.

Globalisation means that we face different economic and social challenges in Europe. Is it worth tackling the same problem twice? Does it not reoccur in Hamburg, Paris, Kaunas or another region in the world? We face a simple truth: today we can only solve challenges together by joining our potential.

Today’s challenges have no borders. We need Pan-European experience, innovative capacity and creativity to work together. Some things we cannot do on our own and the diversity of countries and experience is an important part of our successful future.

EU universities employ many experts from different disciplines; they have high creativity and innovation potential. Therefore, it is important to not only share the individual country experience but also to find solutions together. What if we faced the challenges together with industry representatives, private companies, public and non-governmental organisations?

This ambitious idea was suggested by the ECIU (European Consortium of Innovative Universities) network. KTU joined ECIU in 2016 and is the only Lithuanian university in the Consortium. Currently, ECIU University has more than 200 thousand students and 31 thousand staff.

ECIU University hopes to modernise higher education and to challenge traditional thinking in its study process. It is not just routine cooperation between universities as may seem, but a long-term mutual commitment to educate the new generation of Europeans and strengthen trust and value solidarity at European level while preserving national identity.

Opportunity to work with world-famous companies

An academic approach to the global world is no longer enough to address the emerging issues. ECIU University will involve business, industry and social partners to the study process. Some major companies such as Intel, Ericsson AB, Airbus, Cisco and Novartis will solve the challenges together with universities. Two companies in Lithuania – Hella Lithuania and Ignitis, have already joined the process and supported ECIU University from the very beginning. Of course, soon more Lithuanian companies and institutions will be involved in the process. I would like to thank Kaunas city and district municipalities who support the idea.

How will the learning process look like? ECIU University teams will work together like in a start-up or in a hackathon. A city or a company will provide information on problems they face and this will become a challenge for the teams of students, lecturers, researchers, business representatives from different countries, possessing different experiences. These interdisciplinary, international teams together will create a project that will help solve the problem.

All the challenges will be related to the problems right next to us – near our home, in our city. For example, the parking problem, the supply chain for various products, energy saving, food waste and many more. Students with relevant knowledge, experience or ideas will also be able to join international teams and solve problems in different countries.

Together with the technology entrepreneurship programme, KTU has been applying challenge-based learning for several years now. Challenges are also provided by companies, they are created by monitoring the environment and registering the expectations of different groups in society. KTU student teams have received numerous awards for relevant and useful solutions, such as the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge.

New experience that will make job search easier

In ECIU University study experience is not limited geographically or just by specific university competencies. Our students will have the opportunity not only to study from the best ECIU lecturers but also to take part in creative workshops or practice in Barcelona, Dublin or any other city of ECIU network.

The form and the content of learning is innovation, not the mobility itself. Imagine that you can learn and solve challenges not only at the university but also at home, during the virtual lecture, which brings students from 12 different universities in the ECIU network. ECIU University is changing the concept of higher education. I want to emphasise that most of the study material is already available online. In the future, this sector will grow even more and live meetings with colleagues, lecturers will focus on solving problems.

A common situation that many students face is a lack of experience or of a credible way to demonstrate the earned skills. For this, ECIU University is offering another innovative solution – results and competencies passport. ECIU University will assess student competencies in so-called micro-credentials or competence blocks. By addressing a particular challenge, students will acquire certain competencies that will be completed in the student’s skills passport. By solving real challenges, students will have a document that supports acquired skills. This will make a job search easier.

Eugenijus Valatka is the rector of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU)

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