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European Universities Alliances: Is Lithuania Ready for the Transformation of Education?
16-12-2021

Climate change, demographic changes, digitalisation – these are the challenges that specialists and researchers in various fields have been attempting to overcome over a period of time. European educational institutions are forming alliances, where multidisciplinary groups of students and researchers look for best solutions to cope with complex and multifaceted challenges.

On December 9, Transformation of Higher Education: Alliances as a Strategic Direction forum was held in Lithuania, bringing together representatives of national and public institutions, visionaries in higher education, and practitioners from European Universities Alliances.

Presentations at the forum were made by Peter van der Hijden, Independent Advisor on Higher Education Strategy, Dr. Danica Ramljak, Senior Science and Innovation Consultant at the World Bank, Màrius Martínez, President of the ECIU University, Dr. Daniela Trani, Director of the YUFE Alliance, Colin Tück, Director of the European Quality Assurance Register, and Andrius Zalitis, Advisor to the Republic of Lithuania Minister of Education, Science, and Sports.

The forum discussions focused on the value created by Universities Alliances. The aim was to answer the question of whether we were ready for educational innovation, who was to take the lead on the alliances of European universities, and how global challenges were to be met.

Alliances based on cooperation

The participants in the discussion unanimously agreed that European Universities Alliances were not based on competition with each other, but on the principles of cooperation. Gintautas Jakštas, Deputy Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Ministry of Education, Science. and Sports, argued that the smart specialisation operating in Lithuania and certain priorities for individual fields of science made it possible through alliances to demonstrate our strengths and to emphasise our uniqueness. Mr. Jakštas believed that internationalisation was a fundamental issue in science which provided opportunities for new perspectives and challenges.

Prof. Almantas Salamavičius, art historian and urbanist who also took part in the discussion, noted that such alliances of educational institutions were building a new culture of science and education in Europe. “Now we are creating a space, a new culture of European universities and higher education institutions that is to enable their students, researchers, and academics of different profiles to speak the same language of science, to get involved, and to collaborate. That would be a great achievement,” said prof. Salamavičius.

Development of European skills and competences

Audronė Telešienė, professor of Sociology and Communication, revealed that the development of competences in Lithuanian education was based on specialisation, although in Europe a comprehensive approach to multifaceted challenges, such as climate change, was more valued.

“Our specialists have deep but narrow competences, so there is a gap here,” said prof. Telešienė. According to her, the international culture created by European Universities Alliances enabled people from different fields to work in teams and to solve complex problems.

Elijus Čivilis, CEO of Invest Lithuania, emphasised that in some cases, such as in the context of artificial intelligence, it was no longer individual countries but continents that were competing: “All and everyone are increasingly realising they could never do it on their own.” He argued that the Universities Alliances could set a good precedent for changing the direction of competition in the world.

Mrs. Telešienė also pointed out that the science of the future was to be shaped not only by the academic community, but by the market itself, its different sectors, and all citizens. “Thinking about what science will look like in European Universities Alliances and how to open it up to the general public is one of the most important challenges,” she said.

Alliances can solve problems of Lithuanian education

Participant of the discussion Klaudijus Melys, Lithuanian Youth Representative at the United Nations, emphasised the aspect of social inclusion: “The uniqueness of Europe is that we want to involve in problem solution the greatest possible number of people who are willing and able to do this.” According to him, the time came for universities to share their knowledge and involve the general public in knowledge creation.

He pointed out that interdisciplinary projects in which students could be involved were particularly relevant. According to him, this would both create better conditions for young people and future academics to conduct research and also potentially lead to closer cooperation between colleagues working in different fields.

Professor Salamavičius said that we should see alliances as a new opportunity to improve the quality of studies in Lithuania and  to increase social inclusion.

“It is a new platform where we can have a number of useful things – new study programmes, new ideas, innovations, and tested interdisciplinary work models. Simultaneously, we can also offer our ideas and share our experience,” he said.