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A Review of Two Successful Days

First ENGAGE.EU Annual Conference, October 2021

Around 130 participants from seven European countries travelled to Mannheim on 21-22 October 2021 for a very special event: the first ENGAGE.EU Annual Conference. It was the Alliance’s very first event that could take place live on site. The excitement of finally meeting in person after the long preparations, exclusively via digital channels, was clearly felt by all participants. Everyone looked forward to getting started, meeting in small groups, and exchanging ideas with colleagues from the partner universities.

“ENGAGE.EU is more than a project — it is an institution that will last,” said Prof. Thomas Puhl, President of the University of Mannheim, in his opening speech. It is also an institution that finds enthusiastic resonance far beyond the respective universities. Ms Tine Delva, Deputy Head of Unit of the European Commission, welcomed the Alliance as a valuable contribution to higher education as a whole: “ENGAGE.EU brings together Northern, Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe — and inspires people with their commitment to society. Expectations are high, but we are here to support this,” she said, emphasising the importance of investing in European higher education. 

Keynote and panel discussion on societal challenges

What are the current problems facing society as a whole?

One of the biggest challenges is climate change, which is causing a drastic impact on our environment. Lars-Henrik Paarup Michelsen, Director of the Norwegian Climate Foundation, drew attention to the urgency of this dramatic change in his keynote speech. How do we manage not only to reduce emissions, but to eliminate them? This is the only way we can achieve the ambitious climate goals. We are still at the very beginning here. So, there is a great need for action.

In addition, there is the growing trend of Euroscepticism, the challenges of digitalisation, migration, and the polarisation of science-based facts within society. Mr Theo Weterings (Mayor of Tilburg), Ms Clémentine Bories (Vice President University of Toulouse), Mr Sandro Mochan (Board of Learners), and Mr Lars-Henrik Paarup Michelsen dived into these issues, highlighting once again why alliances such as the European University ENGAGE.EU must and will not fail. 

From vision to reality 

ENGAGE.EU, our European University, was founded exactly one year ago. What can one learn from the last year — and what are the challenges on the road ahead of us?  

Every university goes hand in hand with academic responsibility, explained Wim van de Donk, Rector of Tilburg University, in his speech. Knowledge transfer comes from universities and reaches society via their students and partners. This complex interaction is nothing new, but today it requires new approaches. It begs for innovation and openness. Since networks are not closed archipelagos, we, as ENGAGE.EU member universities, have to build bridges and constantly evolve. 

Dirk Simons, ENGAGE.EU’s coordinator, and Peter van der Hijden, who has been involved as a strategic advisor from the beginning, talked about ENGAGE.EU being focused on people and networking. To achieve our ambitious goals, we need to concentrate on two aspects in particular: strengthening European higher education further, and identifying challenges and tackling them together as a European University. 

Governing Board and Advisory Board meeting 

ENGAGE.EU: pros and challenges

What is going well at ENGAGE.EU, and what are the challenges that still remain?  

We invited all participants to think over these questions and the semi-formal World Café event. It is always a good idea to critically question internal processes on a regular basis. Members from all work packages came together in small groups and thought about communication, commitment, and cross-connection within the European University. They all agreed that personal meetings should take place on a regular basis from now on, and that strengthening the dialogue and exchange between separate work packages was a must.  

We are pleased that our first ENGAGE.EU annual conference met with such a positive response. True to our motto:

ENGAGE yourself — Study. Research. Exchange TOGETHER 

ENGAGE.EU R&I kick-off and community building

At the end of the Annual Conference, during a hybrid Friday event, we took a glimpse at the future of our European University with the start of ENGAGE.EU Research & Innovation. After an official launch by the project managers, the work package leaders presented the core tasks and directions for the future activities within the consortium.

The last part of our Mannheim event was dedicated to bringing the people together with community building activities. Expectedly, this left a strong desire to meet again in person very soon. Indeed, we may have closed the first edition of our Annual Conference — but feel the horizon of the next one is fast approaching.