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EDUC digital alliance in full swing, connecting six universities

After nearly two years of intense preparations, the activities of the European Digital UniverCity (EDUC) alliance have been in full swing since September. Masaryk University is a member of the alliance alongside five other universities from France, Germany, Italy, and Hungary.

Michal Černý from the Faculty of Arts will teach a course about digital competencies.

The main goal of the European Digital UniverCity (EDUC) alliance, which was awarded a 5 million EUR grant from the European Union for three years, is to cooperate on teaching, introducing modern learning methods in the classroom, and boosting student and teacher exchanges. The entire project is coordinated by the University of Potsdam, and, besides MU, the other members are the Universities of Rennes, Pécs, and Cagliari and Paris Nanterre University.

The consortium was formed in 2019 in response to the EU’s first call for applications for the European Universities Initiative. More than 54 alliances involving 300 universities from across Europe submitted applications. Seventeen consortiums comprising 114 universities were selected to receive funding. The only other Czech university besides MU to succeed was Charles University as part of the 4EU+ alliance.

“For Masaryk University it is a massive success to be a part, from the very start, of this prestige network of European alliances, which are supposed to enhance the quality and attractiveness of European higher education and compete with universities in the English-speaking world and beyond. EDUC will open up new educational opportunities for our students and employees, who I believe will make the most of these new opportunities for professional and personal development,” said MU rector, Martin Bareš.

A second call was also issued by the EU, and now 41 such alliances exist in Europe, each of which has different goals. Some focus on closer cooperation in research, whereas other concentrate more on participating in civil society. All EDUC activities centre mainly around providing students with an international education through various learning formats, from classic student exchanges to virtual mobility and joint study programmes.

“Being a part of EDUC is without question one of MU’s greatest successes in internationalization. At the same time, it presents us with a great challenge. Ahead of us is a daunting task: bringing together all six universities, with more than 150,000 students and 20,000 employees in total, to form a single European university and create a large trans-European community,” explained MU vice-rector for internationalization, Břetislav Dančák.

A virtual international campus where students and teachers will meet

A virtual international campus, where students and teachers from five European countries will meet for online learning, will help connect these six higher education institutes to form one university. For the time being, thanks to EDUC and the work of dozens of people, 37 pilot online courses have been developed. Overall, there should be more than 100 of them. You can find a list of offered courses in the online catalogue of EDUC courses.

Most online courses will be offered for the first time in the 2021/2022 academic year, but some MU students had the opportunity to take online Italian-language courses at the University of Cagliari in the spring 2021 semester. These courses were unexpectedly popular. In January language e-tandems will be launched for employees to practise English, French, German, and Hungarian.

All the universities participating in the alliance will offer online courses, including MU, where 30 teachers have thus far been involved in preparing online classes. For example, Hispanist Athena Alchazidu from the MU Language Centre has already taught two courses focused on Latin America in collaboration with colleagues from Hungary, Ecuador, and the USA. You can read more about her experience with EDUC in the article “I am enthusiastic about online EDUC courses,” says lecturer from MU.

Marek Pavlík from the Faculty of Economics and Administration taught his first EDUC course, Sports Economics and Policy, in the spring: “I split the course half and half with my colleague from Rennes, and 26 students enrolled. Most were from Rennes, and ten were from MU. It was a very interesting experience for me, and I enjoyed seeing the differences between cultures and knowledge at the two universities. Students praised the course. Most of all they appreciated the fact that it made them feel almost like they were Erasmus students.”

Marek Pavlík from the Faculty of Economics and Administration taught his first EDUC course, Sports Economics and Policy, in the spring.

Michal Černý from the Department of Information and Library Sciences of the Faculty of Arts, where online classes and courses for the public have been taught for more than a decade, is currently offering a new EDUC course. “I will teach a course about digital skills, and I am already looking forward to it, mostly to teaching in English and to foreign students. EDUC is something totally new, and I see great potential in it,” he said.

In the future, dozens of other teaching staff members from MU will teach international online courses for EDUC. They will receive funding and technical support from the MU Centre for International Cooperation, which coordinates the EDUC project at MU. The centre will also be home to a special classroom for online and hybrid courses that will be available for EDUC teachers to use year-round.

Faster paperwork for academic mobility and shared research capacities

Membership in the alliance brings MU many other benefits. For example, the EDUC-SHARE project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme, will enable the partner universities to fully share their research capacities. The number of summer schools on offer will also increase, and new joint study programmes will be created. They will be taught in foreign languages, and graduates will receive a diploma from MU as well as from the other participating foreign universities.

The administrative work associated with ingoing and outgoing students will be streamlined; students will be able to take care of all necessary paperwork during a single week. The number of exchange programmes offered will be expanded. For example, the EDUC Gap Year allows students to study a different study programme in France than they do at MU and thus broaden their education and professional focus. In the autumn, the first students from four of MU’s faculties will take advantage of this programme in Paris and Rennes.

Juraj Cigáň is one of them, a student of the interdepartmental computer linguistics programme offered by the MU Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Informatics. He is currently in Rennes taking data science courses. “Even back in secondary school I had trouble picking out exactly what I wanted to study, so the opportunity to study something entirely different as part of this programme really spoke to me. It is a wonderful opportunity for broadening my horizons and knowledge. On top of that, it is a very pleasant change especially after the long lockdown. So far, I am very excited about my time abroad. I’ve met loads of interesting people and travelled around the area. I would definitely recommend it.”

Student of Masaryk University Juraj Cigáň is currently in Rennes thanks to the new exchange programme EDUC Gap Year.

The three-year EDUC grant ends next year in September, and the European Union has yet to officially announce how and based on what criteria the existing alliance will be funded in the next programme period. It is likely that the EU will automatically extend the grants of all existing alliances. It is also possible that existing alliances will have to compete against each other for another grant. It all depends on the new call for applications that the EU will announce in October.

“The European Union will also probably want existing alliances to expand and add new members. That will be another challenge for us because it is clear that cooperation between universities will have to be much deeper than we imagined at the beginning and that it will have substantial effects on all aspects of university life. EDUC, however, provides us with an exceptional opportunity for getting up close and personal with foreign universities and has led to opening up unique opportunities for students and teachers,” said Jan Pavlík, director of the Centre for International Cooperation.