Since the beginning of the EPICUR adventure, we started to implement our vision. In addition to our core tasks of finding new ways of teaching and learning through our education programmes, our interuniversity campus, and the strengthen cooperation with our regions, we also have the task of increasing our impact on society.
The European Commission has given the funded “European Universities” a further mandate: to strengthen the link between universities and society. Indeed, the Commission considers alliances to be important players and real engines of development for cities and regions capable of addressing major societal challenges and promoting civic engagement.
Liberal Arts & Sciences for future problem solvers
In EPICUR, the involvement of civil society and business has been considered from the outset.
“We are moving from the knowledge triangle to the knowledge quadrangle and see ourselves as the EPICUR Alliance at its centre, serving everything in the same way: teaching, research, innovation and the connection to society.”Project leader Michael Zacherle from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
This is why the Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS) are a supporting pillar of EPICUR. Following the tradition of learning and teaching in the liberal arts and sciences, the aim is to train young Europeans who will later contribute to the economy and the society through their skills as experienced generalists and problem solvers. LAS focuses on interdisciplinary cooperation in order to identify and overcome the social challenges of today. The focus is on the promotion of intercultural awareness, the development of critical analysis and reflection, and the ability to take on a leadership role later on.
“The basic idea is that students do not have to transfer to the partner universities for one or two semesters, but can also complete smaller periods such as individual courses or seminars at the other universities using virtual methods and blended learning. […] There are many formal and legal requirements behind this idea that have yet to be created. Of course, this cannot be achieved in three years, but only in the long term.”Project leader Michael Zacherle from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
The KIT provides the alliance with a partnership with the Anna Lindh Foundation, a network of more than 4,000 non-governmental organizations for the promotion of intercultural dialogue in the Mediterranean region. Through this connection, EPICUR students will have the opportunity to do internships with civil society organizations.
“This participatory approach ensures that civil society is not only the recipient of data from the ‘ivory tower’, but that we as universities also take up the needs of society.”
Before the students go into the organizations, the University of Haute-Alsace, France, offers intercultural training that prepares them for the internships. This concept also works with the train-the-trainer method for instance with members of the EPICUR staff but also with interested students who will learn the methodology for teaching intercultural skills. They will spread this knowledge wherever they later work – in universities, organisations, and even companies.
EPICUR partners attach particular importance to training the European entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
“We promote entrepreneurial thinking among our students not only in lectures, but we also offer qualifications in the field of entrepreneurship.”Project leader Michael Zacherle from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Entrepreneurs are particularly successful if they think internationally right from the start and develop a product that is compatible with many cultures. As an example of a concept that the KIT brings into the alliance, the project manager mentions the “Student Innovation Labs” where needs from the civil society, such as a digitally networked therapy for the treatment of depression, are translated into a product. In addition, an international competition is to be set up along the lines of the GROW competition of the “Pioneer Garage” at KIT in order to select the best start-ups at the locations of the partner universities within the framework of EPICUR.
Focus on virtual teaching and learning methods
With funding from the DAAD, EPICUR is also currently building a virtual laboratory in which EPICUR students can learn how to handle hazardous substances.
“Of course, the virtual test tubes are no substitute for a real laboratory, but they are ideal as a low-threshold introduction,” says physicist Zacherle.
We could also imagine this model for schools at some point in the future – another result of EPICUR that would find resonance in civil society.