From left: Prof. Birgitta Wolff, President of the Goethe University, Prof. Stelios D. Katranidis, Rector of the University of Thessaloniki, Prof. Antoni Różalski, Rector of the University of Lodz, Prof. Nathalie Dompnier, President of the University Lumière Lyon 2 und Edilio Mazzoleni, University of Milan. (Copyright: Uwe Dettmar)

„TruMotion“ is the chosen name. Motion and exchange are at the heart of the alliance between the Goethe University and the universities in Lodz, Lyon, Milan and Thessaloniki, which was contractually sealed on Wednesday this week. The alliance is jointly planning a plethora of projects, programmes and courses of study.

At the faculty level, cooperation and exchanges have already been flourishing; now the managements of the five universities have joined forces in order to cooperate even more extensively in the future. On Wednesday the University of Lodz, the Université Lumière Lyon II, the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki and the Goethe University signed the final cooperation agreements in the office of Prof. Birgitta Wolff, President of the University of Frankfurt. A first objective of the common endeavour is that the five universities intend to apply for the “European University” title and the associated funding from the European Union. However, irrespective of this, a wide range of ideas has already emerged in the run-up to yesterday’s signing of the agreement.

„We want to become a brand“, states Prof. Rolf van Dick, Vice President of the Goethe University responsible for International Affairs, on the sidelines of the meeting. The logo is already available: designed at the university in Lodz, Poland, it already adorns the joint documents. Five rays crossing a circle – abstract, yet allowing a breadth of associations. The now allied universities have many things in common and a lot of it has to do with the location: „All these cities are so-called Second Cities. This is to say that they are neither capitals nor the largest cities in their respective countries. However, they are multifaceted metropolises with a strong economy, good social cohesion and are steeped in a long civic and liberal tradition“, elaborates van Dick. They share similar problems such as high rents and strong immigration. Still, the universities themselves also have a lot in common: they are all comprehensive universities with medicine but without engineering – with the exception of Thessaloniki.

Social cohesion, societal change and social identity – these are pressing topics when it comes to a joint long-term educational strategy and a common (virtual) „European campus“. As a „European University“, the collaboration could be substantiated and intensified.

In a highly acclaimed 2017 keynote speech, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the establishment of twenty European universities by 2024, by which he did not mean newly created institutions, but rather the European networking and alignment of existing universities. At a challenging time for the European Union, university science should be strengthened as a pivotal driving force of European integration, so that the younger generation can develop a greater affinity with the European project. During a visit to the Goethe University in October of 2017, Macron emphatically reaffirmed his vision and therewith has also inspired the Goethe University to launch the initiative. After an initial attempt in the spring of 2019, it is now intended to resubmit the application to the “European University” programme. In this process, Goethe University is spearheading the consortium.  

Focusing on strengths and jointly seeking solutions to challenges – is at the core of the cooperation. „In our regions, we have more start-ups collectively than Silicon Valley“, says van Dick. The cities and counties of the university locations are on board as associate members of the alliance, in addition to the German-Italian Centre for the European Dialogue, the Villa Vigoni on Lake Como, and the Association of Science and Technological Transfer (ASTP), a non-profit organisation with the goal of conveying science to society.

The members of this week’s meeting emerged with a sizeable workload. Key topics are mobility and exchange; a new joint degree programme in „Politics, economics and law“ is to be established, which will entail elements of computer science as well as two stays abroad. Novel teaching formats are to be developed that do not always necessitate a change of location. Moreover, both scientific and administrative staff should also exchange ideas and familiarise themselves with the work methods and structures at other universities. In the long term, a joint technological infrastructure is also envisioned. These are grand goals that require perseverance – and money. Even if these endeavours do not come to fruition it is intended to continue and to hope for the support of their own countries and regions.

„Universities and their cities are to become ‚Living Labs‘ and ‘Agents of Change’ that take place in the interest of the people“, elucidates Rolf van Dick. „Mobility, internationalisation, joint research – these are our high hopes for this alliance”, states Professor Dimitrios Kyrkilis, Vice President at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki. His Polish colleague from Lodz specifies for his location: „We would like to disseminate European ideas more strongly again in Eastern Europe and strengthen the position of science“, says Professor Paweł Starosta.