A Vision of a Networked Europe – How Students Can Benefit from the European Digital UniverCity
What do Alexander the Great, Big Data, Italian and the neurosciences have in common? They are all part of the online courses offered by the European Digital UniverCity (EDUC) that students can take from anywhere - including on their own couch. Summer and winter schools, excursions, language courses and think tanks for students from a wide array of disciplines are also in the program, with many of them also available onsite at the eight participating universities in France, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Norway, Spain, and Germany. Hikmet Güler knows what the European university alliance has on offer; as a student at the University of Potsdam, he has both taken courses in the program and also represented EDUC at the European Student Assembly in Strasbourg.
Thirty-eight alliances and 275 students from 28 countries were at the conference in the spring of 2022, where they discussed the future of Europe. Among them were Hikmet Güler and two other students from the University of Potsdam who represented EDUC as student representatives. The European Student Assembly is an initiative by the European Universities Community (EUC) that is meant to give students in the European Union a voice. Ten working groups worked on various challenges that will face the EU in the future. “In my group, we worked on migration and asylum in the age of climate change,” says Güler, who is studying for his master’s degree in public administration at the University of Potsdam. “For example, we are dealing with the legal foundations that should be created in the EU for refugees.” The conference resulted in a list of proposals for policymakers that the students then delivered to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The European university alliance EDUC recently celebrated its third birthday, and now funding has been secured from the European Commission for four more years of support; and if there is a positive evaluation, two more years will be added on. Under the leadership of the University of Potsdam, the following universities are in the network: the University of Caligari (Italy), the Masaryk University (Czech Republic), the University of Pécs (Hungary), the University Paris Nanterre, the University of Rennes I (France), the Jaume I University (Spain), and the University of South-Eastern Norway. Altogether, the alliance has about 200,000 students as well as 31,000 lecturers, researchers and staff in technology and administration. The alliance wants to develop its shared virtual campus in the coming four years. This transnational university community has prioritized multilingualism, inclusion, interdisciplinarity, and digital technologies.
An official student council should also be created in the second phase. The idea here is to get to know one another better, for example like the Sustainable Business Week in May in the Sardinian capital of Cagliari, where a business idea for a French hotel in the sustainability sector was developed. Hikmet Güler was also involved in this. In intercultural teams, students from Germany, France, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic developed concepts that brought together perspectives that were shaped by the students’ origins. There was complete unanimity, on the other hand, during the yoga sessions that the team completed for relaxation.
“Students are very interested in such encounters, but they are also interested in the flexible structure that EDUC offers,” says Güler. Many of the programs and courses are interdisciplinary in character and draw in linguists as well as physicists and economists. The student exchange at EDUC is open and dynamic; there are often brief stays abroad that don’t require lengthy application processes. Unlike the Erasmus program, students don’t have to pick just one university; instead, they have full access to everything that the participating universities have on offer. In the meantime, a gap year in France has become possible during which students can attend a broad range of EDUC courses for one to two semesters at the University of Rennes I or Paris Nanterre. This invitation to participate in transnational research seminars is not limited to students; indeed, researchers and lecturers are invited to design courses at partnering universities. University employees can also benefit from EDUC, for example by taking language courses.
“EDUC has a vision of a networked Europe,” says Güler. What is important to Güler is that students’ interests remain front and center: “University alliances should primarily serve students and academic exchange.” Güler is therefore involved as an International Student Buddy and in the Internationalization Commission. As if this weren’t enough, he also works as a research assistant at Career Services and is on the board of a non-profit consulting firm and a think tank, both of which are organizations led by students.
“I want to give something back to the University of Potsdam,” says the 26-year-old Güler. “It’s like a home for me.” Many students aren’t able to look around during their studies if they want to finish within the standard period of study. This isn’t a priority for Güler; instead, he appreciates the opportunity to take part in discussions. “I take the time for that because I want to help shape the university.”
This text appeared (in german language) in the university magazinePortal - Zwei 2022 „Artensterben“(PDF).