CHARM-EU closes 2022 with its third successful Annual Conference

Group photo made during the 2022 CHARM-EU Annual Conference
Thu, 12/22/2022 - 11:52

On 13 and 14 December 2022, the CHARM-EU Alliance organized its third annual conference titled "Looking back and looking forward: the European Universities’ multi-level effect". The event served as a worthy closure to the first phase of cooperation within the Alliance and foreshadowed the ambitions for the next years.

Following two successful annual conferences organized in the virtual world, the University of Barcelona hosted the 2022 Annual Conference which was the first yearly gathering of the Alliance held in a presential format. The beautiful historical building of UB welcomed the colleagues from the eight CHARM-EU partner universities as well as students, academics, representatives of other European University Alliances, policymakers and external stakeholders from business and society. The two-day event provided a lively atmosphere for fruitful discussions and served as a great opportunity to showcase the achievements of the past 3 years while also envisaging the next period of cooperation both within the CHARM-EU Alliance and in the European Education Area.

In order to set the stage for the event and explore the main theme from various perspectives, the conference was opened by a special panel chaired by Prof. Joan Guàrdia Olmos, Rector of the University of Barcelona. Following his welcoming words, this interactive session united CHARM-EU student Olivia Riksen, Academic Board member Marjanneke Vijge (UU), Project Manager Julien Lorentz (UM) and Senior Sustainability Advisor Hugo von Meijenfeldt (UN Global Compact) to set the tone by discussing from different perspectives the main challenges and achievements related to the European Universities Initiative and sustainability.

In order to further frame the event and place CHARM-EU – as well as the role of European Universities – in a broader context, Head of the European Commission’s Higher Education Unit Vanessa Debiais-Sainton joined the next session online to share the perspective of the European Commission. She congratulated CHARM-EU for its successful application in the 2022 Erasmus+ European Universities Call and highlighted the importance of ‘deploying’ the new perspectives gained in CHARM-EU within the partner institutions and supporting students and staff to experience the added value of being part of the European Education Area. She emphasized that the objective of the EU is to enable the majority of students to study and learn to cooperate across borders and disciplines in order to be able to tackle the great challenges of our time such as climate change. Following her speech, Undersecretary Markus González Beilfuss from the Spanish Ministry of Universities provided valuable insights on the role and impact of the European Universities on the national level. He reflected on some of the challenges that member states face when dealing with the functioning of Alliances such as legal issues and the difficulty of dealing with university policies. He highlighted the importance of internal change, international dialogue as well as a more intense dissemination of the initiative to the European society.

After discussing the impact of the European University Alliances in the European and the national contexts, the first plenary session focused on building CHARM-EU, a new European University model from scratch during the past 3 years. To start the conversation, CHARM-EU Alliance Manager Meritxell Chaves gave a presentation summarizing the outcomes of the first phase of collaboration. Following her outline, representatives of the founding universities – Núria Casamitjana from the University of Barcelona (UB), Padraig Carmody from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Jan Haarhuis from Utrecht University (UU), Ferenc Takó from Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and Gilles Subra from the University of Montpellier (UM) – shared their experiences gained as project directors coordinating the implementation of CHARM-EU. Looking forward to the future, they also discussed the priorities and ambitions of the new project of the Alliance: CHARM-EIGHT.

This more CHARM-EU specific discussion was followed by a plenary session focusing on European Universities’ best practices and policy reform, where representatives of fellow Alliances shared their own lessons learnt and future plans. Vice-rector Antoni Luna Garcia from the Pompeu Fabra University represented the EUTOPIA Alliance and highlighted the importance of connecting communities within and outside university walls as well as their plans on consolidating and expanding these connections during their next project. Representing the 4EU+ Alliance, Head of Local Office Hakima Fassi Fihri and 4EU+ Secretary General Isabelle Kratz presented the achievements and the governance structure of their Alliance highlighting their engagement in step-by-step sustainability and the need for more collaboration amongst the alliances. Joining online to represent Una Europa, Secretary General Emily Palmer talked about the Alliance’s many achievements and joint educational programs. She highlighted the importance of empowering communities and focusing on the transformative and innovative potential of European Universities with a multi-dimensional flexible approach. Representing CHARM-EU’s perspective, Raúl Ramos, UB’s Vice-Rector for Internationalization Policy joined this inter-alliance panel.

Following the lunch-break, participants had the possibility to attend one of the five thematic breakout-sessions of the event. Aligning with the overarching conference theme, the aim of these sessions was to cover different strategic topics linked to past achievements as well as to the objectives of the new CHARM-EIGHT project starting from 2023. In Breakout session 1 chaired by Deputy Director Julien Frémont (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) CHARM-EU colleagues – Jake Byrne (TCD), Dimitra Mousa (UU) and Ágnes Albert (ELTE) – shared the challenges and successes in connection with the accreditation process and the piloting of the Master’s in Global Challenges for Sustainability. Next, representatives of the EU-CONEXUS AllianceAmanda Sancho (University of Valencia) and Alexandru Aldea (UTCB) – introduced their joint BSc Minor programmes related to coastal sustainability along with some of their challenges and best practices. Breakout session 2 chaired by Vice-rector Imre Hamar (ELTE) was focusing on CHARM-EU’s governance model: Vice-president Patrick Caron (UM) talked about the governance of the first project; Rector’s Commissioner Núria Casamitjana (UB) explained the design of the new model for the Alliance, while Vice-rector Frank Miedema (UU) presented the new governance model and the necessary steps for its implementation.

The third breakout session chaired by Péter Tordai, ELTE’s Deputy Director for mobility was focusing on innovative mobilities as part of the European university alliances design. Luca Alexa Erdei (ELTE), Harriet Klåvus (Åbo Akademi), Andrius Uždanavičius (ARQUS Alliance), Leticia Díaz Platero (SEPIE) and CHARM-EU student Marcin Chojnacki discussed challenges, solutions and best practices in the organization of short- and long-term physical and blended mobilities as part of joint degree programs within university alliances. Breakout session 4 chaired by Vice-rector László Zentai (ELTE) contributed to the debate on how Alliance-level innovation and best practices could be mainstreamed in order to support institutional level transformation. One of the main conclusions of the discussion among President Susanne Staude (HRW), José García (UB), Jan Haarhuis (UU) and Gilles Subra was that a bottom-up approach (along with the support of university leadership) is essential in order to achieve institutional-level change. The fifth thematic session chaired by TCD’s Brian Broderick focused on the role of alliances in building the bridge between research and educational practice with the contributions of Vice-rector Jordi Garcia Fernàndez (UB); Vice-rector Marko Joas (Åbo Akademi University) as well as master student Graciela van Schaik (UU) and Senior Sustainability Advisor Hugo von Meijenfeldt (UN Global Compact).

During the final session of the first day of the conference, philosopher Daniel Innerarity, essayist and professor of Political and Social Philosophy gave a special keynote speech about shaping a new relationship between science and society. He explored the distinction and dynamic between laboratory and the external world, science and other social systems, experts and laypeople and finally, between scientific truth and public opinion.

To conclude the first day, attendees had the possibility to take part in a cultural activity and learn about the Catalan tradition of Castellers, the building of human towers.

The second day started with a plenary session strongly connected to the aims of the EU’s Digital Education Action Plan. The panel, chaired by UB’s Marga Bonmatí Pérez showcased examples and experiences on IT infrastructure, interoperability and the future of digitalisation. Educationalists Vanessa Vigano (UM) and Daniel Griffin (TCD) shared their experiences with the virtual learning environment, emerging technologies and the hybrid classroom used in the CHARM-EU Master’s programme. Joining online to represent EuroTeQ Alliance, Ben Parker from the Eindhoven University of Technology talked about how they worked with SURF to design API’s that will help the flow of data between alliance members. Representing the UNITE! Alliance, Jesus Alcober (Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya) and Martin Ebner (Graz University of Technology) presented the Metacampus of their Alliance which serves as a meeting point, a Learning Management System and also as a community site. Finally, Innovation manager Christien Bok from SURF talked about how to construct a European digital ecosystem for education and highlighted the need for inter-alliance cooperation to find solutions to the problems that every Alliance is experiencing.

The second panel chaired by Rector's Delegate for Sustainability Maria Teresa Sauras Yera (UB) focused on a core value of the CHARM-EU Alliance: inclusion and diversity. In this session, Agnes Sarolta Fazekas, leader of the Inclusiveness Team presented how accessibility and inclusion have been step by step interwoven into CHARM-EU’s DNA. UB’s Cati Jerez Paredero shared insights and experiences as a representative of UNI(di)VERSITY, while UNIMED Director Marcello Scalisi talked about the Mediterranean Universities Union’s work on inclusion highlighting that Universities can play an important (mediator) role to include vulnerable communities as much as possible. The conclusion of the panel was clear: inclusion is everyone’s business and it is essential for creating dialogue and deep collaboration.

Connecting also to the topic of the previous session, the last panel focused on the principles of the New European Bauhaus and the values of the European Universities working towards a sustainable and inclusive future. Joining online from Strasbourg, MEP Marco Ros Sempere welcomed session participants and summarised the ambition of the New European Bauhaus on combining beauty, social engagement and sustainability. Following his speech, session panellists – including Vice-rector Frank Miedema (UU), Associate professor Pedro Matias (representing the FilmEU Alliance), Director Anna Ramos (Fundació Mies van der Rohe), Science and University Policy Advisor Julia Miralles de Imperial Pujol (Barcelona City Council) and Joanna Post from the Adaptation Division of United Nations Climate Change – discussed the multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach of the initiative from their perspective.

The second day and the 2022 CHARM-EU Annual Conference was ended with a network lunch and a workshop in partnership with UNI(di)VERSITY, closing the first phase of cooperation within the CHARM-EU Alliance and setting the tone for the next 4 years of working and building together the universities of the future – contributing to reconciling humanity with the planet.

The Alliance will prepare a policy brief with the most important conclusions and recommendations discussed during the event.