A Strong Network for Europe

A number of European universities have formed various alliances within the framework of the European Universities Initiative to meet challenges such as creating a qualified workforce, digitalization and sustainability at European level.

Ecological and digital change are essential to achieve a more sustainable and climate-friendly Europe. However, this requires skilled and well-trained experts in all areas. The lack of qualified specialists is one of the greatest challenges we face, not only in Germany but throughout Europe. Universities play an important role here as research and educational institutions and need to continuously update their programs to address challenges such as digitalization, sustainability, the fallout from the COVID pandemic, internationalization and, of course, the lack of trained specialists.

To be able to meet these challenges, a number of European universities have formed various alliances within the framework of the European Universities Initiative. Among the universities to do so is Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin). Together with six other European universities of technology with strong reputations for innovation and research, TU Berlin formed the ENHANCE alliance in 2020. Today, the alliance has 10 member universities. The goal of ENHANCE is to create a European campus without physical, administrative or academic barriers.

Professor Dr. Geraldine Rauch was elected chair of the ENHANCE Board of Directors in March 2023. The coordination of ENHANCE is the responsibility of the Department of International Affairs at TU Berlin. 

What can universities do to make Europe fit for the future? What opportunities and challenges do they face? These are just some of the questions put to Dr. Ulrike Hillemann-Delaney, head of the Department of International Affairs at TU Berlin, in the context of Europe Day on 9 May 2023.

How can German universities contribute to the development of Europe?

“European cooperation in teaching as well as research is becoming ever more important. Our task is to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be able to work in a European context. This is why the European university alliances focus strongly on providing students the opportunity to study in other countries in Europe and also reducing the amount of bureaucracy involved. And if people are unable to travel abroad, then they need to have the chance to gain international European experience at home. Of course, even within Europe many different rules and regulations apply. The alliances formed by the universities are important in achieving progress by dismantling bureaucracy whether in teaching or in scientific cooperation.

What challenges do you face regarding these goals?

“At a practical level, the main challenge is the different semester periods in different countries - something we can do little about. We are currently working to make it easier to have periods spent abroad recognized and to simplify the process of applying to study abroad. The idea is that in the future it will be as easy to study within the ENHANCE alliance as it is within TU Berlin. This requires us to adapt a number of procedures. And we have already taken some measures within ENHANCE: In addition to a number of summer schools, we have also initiated a micro-credentials program. This is based on a certification system that either still needs to be introduced or at least adapted and updated in each of our partner universities. Even the question of which learning platforms to use is not so easy. We are currently in an interim phase where each university is still working with its own system but where an ENHANCE platform already exists.

Another innovation is the European Education Pathways. The basic idea is that a student takes an 'ENHANCE pathway' in their first semester and uses the network to choose different modules. In this system it is possible to do a semester abroad, or participate in a virtual mobility later on, or take one of the certificate programs. This is a major undertaking as the program directors have to check the courses at the partner universities and recognize them in advance. We are currently operating five pilot programs. Additionally, the program directors have to check new courses every semester, also a significant undertaking. Many professors are already committed to this, but at the moment it still depends very much on the individuals. In the long run, the aim is to develop a system that simplifies administration."

How do you find working with the ENHANCE partners?

“I am very happy with our partners. They are the best universities of technology in Europe and we enjoy strong research cooperation with them. We are developing a very strong sense of mutual trust and we share our ideas and experiences on a wide range of topics. For example, we will shortly have a joint seminar on ChatGPT and during the COVID pandemic we worked closely together on practical issues relating to virtual teaching. There is a good working atmosphere and you really have the feeling that we are achieving something together. It is our goal that our students and researchers benefit from this.

What comes next? What are you looking for from politicians?

"We have just submitted a follow-up application. We want to develop our ideas for teaching in the future, the skills and knowledge we want to impart, how we want to approach issues such as the shortage of skilled workers together. This a very exciting exchange. If we do manage to significantly reduce the administrative hurdles, it will open up the field for students to spend time at the partner universities.

We are talking about regulations, administrative issues, and here we need the support of state politics in particular. I hope that local politicians in Berlin will recognize the opportunity presented by the fact that four institutions in Berlin - Freie Universität Berlin, Hertie School, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin - are involved in these alliances and that we are building and developing networks. This creates a dynamic within Europe from which Berlin can also benefit. This can also provide ideas and inspiration for the state government's planned European strategy."

Interviewer: Bettina Klotz.

ENHANCE - success stories

Despite the COVID pandemic, the alliance has achieved many goals over the last years and more than 2,200 people have taken advantage of more than 30 international offers and activities.

The ENHANCE partner universities have concluded an agreement on joint educational offers. Within this agreement, courses at all member universities have been combined into so-called micro-credentials to enable students to extend the focus of their curriculum and also receive a certificate. ENHANCE micro-credentials complement normal study programs with certified content related to the ENHANCE pilot topics (digitalization and AI, smart and sustainable cities, climate action, sustainable entrepreneurship, gender & diversity).

European Education Pathways - uncomplicated recognition of courses

The second pillar for supporting mobility within ENHANCE are the European Education Pathways (EEP). EEPs are a new and innovative offer of the ENHANCE alliance. They enable students in the participating TU Berlin pilot programs to spend one or two semesters abroad, funded by the Erasmus program, at ENHANCE partner universities and put together their own individual schedule from an extensive range of online and in-presence courses. All courses offered have already been pre-tested and recognized at TU Berlin. This means that students no longer have to apply for recognition of academic achievements after their stay abroad, and they can be sure that the credits they earn will be credited to their studies. Currently, EEPs are offered in Computer Science (M.Sc.), Energy Engineering (M.Sc.), Mechanical Engineering (B.Sc. and M.Sc.) and Urban Planning (M.Sc.).

Gender & diversity as a particular task of universities of technology

As universities of technology, it is particularly important for the ENHANCE universities to create teaching and research programs in the natural sciences and technological fields that are sensitive to issues of gender and diversity and make their offers inclusive and accessible for everyone. Gender and diversity-related activities at the partner universities are recorded and evaluated in an annual report. Regular workshops and seminars are offered to increase awareness of these areas within the university community. These offerings are organized by an ombudsperson and are designed to both encourage all students, regardless of gender and background, to pursue studies in a scientific and technical field and to create increased awareness within the disciplines and university administration regarding stereotypes and unconscious biases against groups, both within the university community and society.

Tandeming to success

ENHANCE Language Tandems provide a platform to enable all status groups to develop and strengthen their contacts within the alliance. The central idea is to promote cultural exchange by learning a language together. Working in tandems, participants can learn or refresh their knowledge of the national languages of the partner universities. Following the attack on Ukraine, two Ukrainian universities have become associated partners of ENHANCE, meaning that tandems are also offered in Ukrainian.

Student perspectives on ENHANCE

Jasmin, student representative in ENHANCE, discusses offers for students.

Jasmin © TU Berlin

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Ingunn, student in the Computer Science master’s program at TU Berlin

“In spring 2023, I attended the course ‘Experts in Teamwork’ at NTNU in Trondheim through ENHANCE and next semester I will do an exchange at UP Valencia as part of another ENHANCE program. I first found out about ENHANCE through an email I received about course offers. It was interesting for me as completing courses at other universities is often complicated. ENHANCE aims to make everything run more smoothly by ensuring that the courses you take abroad are already recognized, meaning that you know in advance that you can have them credited to your own program back home. In my opinion, European universities should strive to work more closely so as to benefit from the highly innovative work undertaken by research groups at each institution. If we can lower the hurdles for studying at other institutions, students will have the chance to take part in seminars led by experienced professors at other universities and gain new perspectives in their areas of study.”