European University UNIC - Deepening collaboration in education and research

European University Alliances are networks of higher education institutions collaborating to benefit students, teachers, researchers, and the surrounding societies. There are several alliances, and the cooperation is meant to be long-lasting. Satu Nätti, Professor of Oulu Business School and FRONT programme, clarifies what the UNIC cooperation means for the faculties and FRONT research program at the University of Oulu in practice. UNIC is not only a project of universities but also for cities the universities are placed and collaborate with. Oulu has been given responsibility for one of the seven thematic lines, Resilience and Smart Cities, which we are leading together with the University of Liège.
A woman and a man in traditional outfits at UNIC event

University of Oulu is participating the UNIC consortium that has just entered the second funding period, and for which implementation plans were built last fall. In addition to work packages dedicated to city collaboration, and education- or research-related issues, the activities are now based on seven “thematic lines”.

Thematic lines are a new innovative element aimed to “feed” content from the faculties into the work packages, thus, guaranteeing the participation of faculties and academics. The established thematic lines are:

  1. Superdiversity,
  2. Sustainable and Green Cities,
  3. Urban Resilience and Smart Cities,
  4. Justice, Security & Institutions,
  5. Entrepreneurial Learning for Innovation,
  6. Health & Wellbeing, and
  7. Arts, Culture and Creativity.

Oulu has been given responsibility for the thematic line 3, Resilience and Smart Cities, which we are leading together with the University of Liège. Our link to this theme has been built first and foremost through the FRONT research programme. The director of FRONT, Professor Jarkko Saarinen, and I are co-leading the thematic line together with Liège representatives. Dr. Marja Matinmikko-Blue, Research Director at Infotech Oulu Institute and Director of Sustainability and Regulation at 6G Flagship at University of Oulu, is also involved, especially regarding the Smart Cities perspective.

FRONT Programme´s Satu Nätti and Jarkko Saarinen
Professor Satu Nätti and Professor Jarkko Saarinen from FRONT programme in UNIC meeting in Lodz, Poland.

Since the summer 2023, we have had several online meetings to gather ideas for the action plan. These discussions have involved not only representatives from the designated universities but also from all participating institutions. Each participating university is assigned a dedicated contact person associated with the Resilience and Smart Cities theme.

Practical level cooperation

On 4–5 December 2023, it was finally time to discuss, present and complement the plans at the Kick-off meeting in Łódź [Vuz], Poland. We had the pleasure of meeting our contact people from different universities as well as other colleagues interested in our thematic line.

UNIC is about creating cooperation on a practical level. Therefore, our plans include ideas about joint summer/winter schools (like the one at the Oulu Business School that was launched this fall by Associate Professor Jaakko Simonen’s team in cooperation with Bochum representatives) in Masters and Doctoral Studies level, a MOOC course on the resilience theme, and a broader 5 ECTS course to be utilized more widely in cooperating universities. In the long run, Oulu could also participate in UNIC’s recently started joint master’s programme (REPIC, Re-designing post-industrial city), or find internships for our students in collaborating cities to deepen the cooperation.

All these initiatives prove that on the teaching side the possibilities are wide, but so are in research. At the present stage there is a need to map out what the Resilience and Smart Cities theme really means in the participating universities, who are doing research in these themes, and what is the research focused on. Because resilience-related research is conducted in so many disciplines, its essence is not clear-cut. Only after such a mapping can a clearer view be obtained of the possibilities for generating e.g. research project applications in cooperation. And at best, UNIC could play this role: act as a platform for building Horizon projects, for example.

Supporting urban renewal

What is common for all the participating universities in UNIC is that they are “cities in post-industrial transition”. Consequently, one should not forget the central theme of UNIC, namely cooperation to support urban renewal in participating cities. Therefore, UNIC is not only a project of universities but also for cities the universities are placed and collaborate with. UNIC addresses the issues of the cities that have faced a significant structural change. The participating post-industrial cities are characterized by transition from production-oriented industries to service industries, or the transition is underway.

What can we do in UNIC to collaborate with the city of Oulu? A lot! Starting, for example, by harnessing student work at different levels to solve the city’s challenges, or building joint research projects, especially in the smart cities and resilience. The University of Oulu is also co-leading a work package that is dedicated to the facilitation of university-city collaboration, thus, supporting this work remarkably.

The work in UNIC continues. Now the planned action points have been approved, and the next task is to prioritize to see the order in which the actions need to be implemented. After that, an implementation plan will be prepared for each action point. If you are interested in learning more about UNIC thematic line resilience and smart cities, please do not hesitate to contact.

Learn more about European Universities alliances.

Author: Satu Nätti, Professor, Dean for Education at the Oulu Business School