SwafS conference: Science with and for Society in European University Alliances

During the 1½ day SwafS Cross-Alliances Forum 2023 in Bruxelles on 30 November and 1 December 2023, European Commission officials met with members of the European University Alliances to discuss the future of the research & innovation dimension within university alliances in Europe and to showcase best practices and lessons learned from the Horizon2020-funded SwafS projects.

With more than 200 participants, the Cross-Alliances Forum 2023 was buzzing with energy from members of the 32 participating alliances as well as the many external stakeholders – with European Commission representatives actively engaged in the lively discussion about research and innovation in the European University Alliances. Challenges encountered by the alliances were discussed and a variety of recommendations and lessons learned were presented during the conference.

4EU+ was part of the organizing committee of the event, which was coordinated by CHARM-EU. Work on the event formed part of TRAIN4EU+ Work Package (WP) 6 Governance for Joint Collaboration, led by project manager Miriam Koktvedgaard Zeitzen. WP6 focuses on sharing lessons learned and exchanging best practices coming out of 4EU+’s SwafS project TRAIN4EU+, to upscale collaboration in research support functions across 4EU+ and European University Alliances.

From Agenda Setting to Implementation

TRAIN4EU+’s main intervention was in the panel ‘From Agenda Setting to Implementation: Maximizing the Institutional Impact of the SwafS Projects’ on Day 1, which was co-organised by 4EU+ and FORTHEM. Panelists from five European University Alliances provide insights into challenges and successes in implementing their SwafS projects, with a focus on achieving lasting institutional impact within alliances.

TRAIN4EU+ coordinator and Prorector for Research at University of Copenhagen, David Dreyer Lassen, spoke on the challenges but also the benefits of sharing research infrastructures within alliances. Focal points included the need for flexible models for sharing research infrastructure that respect national legislation, contractual obligations and other requirements, and that still enable a culture of sharing.

Topics raised within the panel included the challenge in developing joint structures for research & innovation (R&I) in universities with a very long institutional history and very diverse infrastructures. The importance of developing joint PhD programmes in transdisciplinary fields was also discussed. This will enable early-stage researchers to be mobile and open to various cultures of doing research. And it will give them a chance to use various facilities and infrastructures of partner universities.

A main challenge addressed by the panel was how the alliances can move forward without a solid, flexible and targeted budget to implement and further develop the results from the SwafS-projects. Solutions include investment pathways and strategies to maximize impact of the work done so far.

Main Panelist Topics:

Siobhan Moane (RUN-EU PLUS):

  • Establishment of 3 European Innovation Hubs and identification of 8 Research Cluster Areas.

  • Contribution of the Swafs RUN-EU PLUS project to institutional integration in research and innovation.

David Dreyer Lassen (TRAIN4EU+):

  • Focus on sharing research infrastructures within the 4EU+ Alliance.

  • Achievements in making resources available and accessible to partners.

Sven Idarand (Transform4Europe):

  • Lessons on cross-culture and cross-institutional working environments.

  • Specific enablers for maximizing institutional impact.

Laura Laura Martin (reSEArch-EU):

  • Building a reliable and trustworthy research structure for future collaboration.

  • Process of developing initiatives within SEA-EU, especially reSEArch-EU.

Nicole Birkle (FIT FORTHEM):

  • Challenges and strategies for funding the research dimension of alliances.

  • Coping with budget challenges and investment pathways for maximizing impact.

What are the SwafS projects leaving for the future?

Workshop 2 on Day 1, organized by 4EU+, focused on Pilots and Action Plans: what are the SwafS projects leaving for future developments of the Alliances’ R&I dimension. Speaking on behalf of 4EU+ was Ladislav Kristoufek, CU Vice Rector Research. The workshop was moderated by 4EU+ policy officer Elena del Giorgio, University of Milan.

A main recommendation was the need to strengthen the SwafS projects' efforts to position European University Alliances as key contributors to the European R&I landscape. One approach is highlighting the alliances’ unique value in complement to existing R&I collaborations.A further recommendation was advocating for future funding and investment to allow European University Alliances to take forward their ambitions and fulfil their potential as drivers of the European Research Area, in Europe as well as globally.

The roles of research managers and research support officers in addressing challenges of the alliances in terms of research support functions covered by the SwafS projects were also discussed. One such challenge is the outsourcing of proposal writing to external consultants by some universities.

Best practices in poster session

32 alliances’ examples on best practices and outcomes of their R&I SwafS projects were showcased in an interactive poster session on Day 1, organized around the seven transformational modules in the SwafS call.

Representing TRAIN4EU+, Anne Jürgens from Heidelberg University, leader of WP 3 Sharing research infrastructure, presented project learnings on how to facilitate sharing of core facilities across universities and borders – a relevant topic not only for life sciences and natural sciences but also for humanities and social sciences. UNITECH Core Facilities at the University of Milan was highlighted as 4EU+ best practice.

All the highlights from the poster session are to be found here including links to every poster.

Publish or Perish in the age of Artificial Intelligence

TRAIN4EU+’s final intervention at the SwafS Cross-Alliances Forum 2023 was in Roundtable 2 on Day 2, which focused on Research Ethics & Integrity: The Role of New Technologies. The 4EU+ speaker was once again CU Vice Rector Research Ladislav Kristoufek, who gave a spirited talk on ‘Publish or Perish in the age of AI.´ EC approaches to AI in research were also presented and discussed at the roundtable.

The SwafS conference ended with a closing session, one portion of which was dedicated to a recap of all the workshops and roundtables during the event. On behalf of 4EU+, Elena del Giorgio summed up some of the key takeaways that came out of Workshop 2 on SwafS pilots and action plans.

All in all, the event was very successful in disseminating best practices and lessons learned from the Horizon2020-funded SwafS projects, as well as providing rich opportunities to network and exchange with other European University Alliances, and with representatives from DG EAC and DG RTD as well as REA.

For a fuller description of the event programme, please see CHARM-EU website.

Photos by Aurore Delsoir