Arqus Forum 2022: Building bridges with passion, commitment and cooperation

A group picture of the participants

The Arqus Forum 2022, the official closing event of the first phase of the Alliance (2019-2022), concluded last Tuesday, 13th September, after 2 intense days devoted to sharing the main highlights achieved during this period as well as to analyse the future of the European Universities and Arqus.

More than 180 representatives from all partner universities gathered on 12th and 13th September to actively participate in the different activities programmed: internal working meetings, open plenary sessions and cultural visits.

The Forum was opened by the Rector of the University of Granada, Pilar Aranda, the Rector of the University of Minho, Rui Vieria de Castro, and the Arqus Coordinator and Vice-Rector for Internationalization at the University of Granada, Dorothy Kelly.

In their welcome words, Dorothy Kelly, emphasised the fantastic work done by the Arqus community during the first 3 years of the Alliance and added that in the next period “Arqus will keep prioritizing mobility, inclusion, diversity and multicultural and plurilingual competences”. Rui Vieria de Castro pointed out that “the Forum is a great opportunity to deeper our cooperation, know each other better and be ready to face the challenges we have ahead”.

The event took place in an unbeatable setting of the city of Granada, the Realejo area, being the new Faculty of Architecture, the Centre for Modern Languages and the Santa Cruz la Real College the main locations of all the meetings and panel debates. All these buildings share a similar structure that put, at its centre point, the typical Granada courtyards where the attendees could enjoy coffee breaks and lunches in the open air.

The first day of the Forum, 12th September, was dedicated to the exchange of the main Arqus results and outcomes. The second one, 13th September, had as main objective the analysis of the future of the European Universities initiative by involving key national and European stakeholders, and, namely, the current challenges of the Arqus Alliance.

On Tuesday, right after the opening, the leaders and some academics and students involved in the 6 Arqus Action Lines had the opportunity to present their main achievements to the entire Arqus community. The Arqus highlights were presented following a dynamic methodology that combined the technical description of the results with videos and testimonials about the real impact of the actions on the target groups (students, professors, etc.). The speakers also showed the lessons learned as well as the experiences acquired as professionals, but also as a community within Arqus. Additionally, the participants proposed improvements and new ideas for the next work plan of the Alliance (2022-2026). An interesting and productive debate took place at the end of the presentation of each Action Line, making the sessions more participative and dynamic for the audience.

The team of Arqus RI also presented the main highlights achieved during the first half of the project. The results of the large interdisciplinary research workshops on Artificial Intelligence and Climate Change as well as the experiences acquired during the Open Research Agenda Setting sessions were especially interesting. This session was moderated by the Arqus RI Officer, Luisa Bernstorff.

On 13th September, Arqus participants had the opportunity to join 2 reflection panels. The first one, “Panel debate on the future of European Universities initiative” was moderated by the Arqus Coordinator, Dorothy Kelly. Vanessa Debiais-Sainton (Head of Unit, Higher Education DG – EAC), Markus González (Permanent Secretary, Spanish Ministry for Universities), Juan Rayón (President, Erasmus Student Network), Roberto Zanino (Vice-Rector, Politecnico di Torino and representative of the UNITE! EU Alliance) and Ruth Ladenheim (Arqus International Advisory Board) discussed on the following topics:

• The two levels of the Higher Education System in Europe.

• Differences between the 2 different generations of Alliances (FOREU1 and FOREU2).

• How are national governments supporting the Alliances?

• How can European Universities have a systemic impact?

• How to involve students and academics in the activities of the Alliances?

• Balance between the 3 missions of the universities: education, research and service to society.

• How to communicate about the Alliances and their activities within the universities and outside?

• How is this initiative contributing to making more attractive the European Higher Education System in the world?

Vanessa Debiais-Sainton pointed out that “European Universities build bridges that have positive benefits for the entire Higher Education System and are a long-term competitive advantage, so to invest in this initiative is really worthy”. Markus González emphasized: “the European Universities is not just a European Commission initiative, but also of the Spanish government, it is now on our table. We are working on removing barriers but we need also to change the way we interpret the rules to be more flexible and coherent with our policies”. The President of the Erasmus Student Network, Juan Rayón, added that European University Alliances must create a “culture of opportunities that offers tangible benefits to students and increase their sense of belonging by making them participants of the decision-making processes”. Ruth Ladenheim and Roberto Zanino discussed how to increase inter-alliance cooperation and the engagement of academics and external stakeholders.

The second open plenary session focused on the future of the Arqus Alliance. Rui Vieria de Castro, Rector of the University of Minho, moderated this interesting session that counted on the participation of Artüras Vasiliauskas (Vice-Rector, Vilnius University), Petra Schaper-Rinkel (Vice-Rector, University of Graz), Anne Giroir-Fendler (Vice-Rector, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) and Benedikt Grothe (Arqus Student Council).

“The Alliances are the starting point to the new innovation system in Europe and their success depends on developing a mindset more open and flexible”, said Petra. “More passion, less bureaucracy” was her main message to highlight the importance of letting the unexpected occur. Artüras emphasized the need to sustain and give support to the Ukrainian academic communities in the long term, in a relationship mutually beneficial for both partners. Anne brought to the table an interesting debate on micro-credentials as new learning paths more adapted to the labour market and digitalization processes. Finally, during this panel, the questions of the Arqus relationship with its nearest ecosystem and the need to simplify the decision-making process within the Alliance were raised.

The public part of the event ended with the final remarks of Dorothy Kelly. In her speech, the Arqus Coordinator acknowledged the great effort of the Arqus community in the first three years of the Alliance and the high quality of the results obtained. "We have a huge amount of fantastic resources and tools to use in the future”, said the Coordinator. Dorothy expressed the importance of such face-to-face events to generate long-term commitment within the Arqus community. She said that “one of the big challenges of the European Universities initiative is to take advantage of the benefits of having several Alliances in the same cities, and the need to commit to greater inter-alliance cooperation”.

"We have the ability and the potential to continue building bridges for our common future", she said, thanking all participants for their enormous contribution to the success of the Arqus Forum 2022. The internal meetings continued in the afternoon, generating fruitful decisions and approaches for the new phase of the project.

The Forum closes an essential phase of the Alliance in which the efforts have been mainly directed towards raising awareness around what a truly European University means for the academic communities within the Arqus universities. During this event, the passion, commitment and cooperation of the participants to advance in the consecution of this common objective have been clearly manifest. Congratulations to all of them!