One of the finest moments of my university career is listening to the speech of Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Great Hall of the University of Helsinki in March 2015.
The audience was mainly students of the University of Helsinki who also had the opportunity to ask questions to perhaps the most influential woman in the world. One of the students asked Merkel what advice she would give to young people who are about to graduate. The question surprised Merkel and I would say that she was even a bit moved as she pondered the answer. The answer was so big.
In her response, Chancellor Merkel talked about her background in the Cold War in East Germany, where the student’s international free movement was out of the question. She urged students at the University of Helsinki to take note of the opportunities offered by the current internationalisation of universities. “Go see the world and get to know different ways of living and thinking,” was the message she conveyed. Us older members of the audience were very much in agreement. During our studies, there were hardly any exchange opportunities, and as we age and get settled somewhere and with someone, going abroad gets more difficult.
The French president Emmanuel Macron conveyed a similar spirit for internationalization in his speech in September 2017, when he put forward a motion towards European Universities. Speking at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Macron pictured the new European Universities as acts of conquest for future generations and the glue that will hold Europe together amongst its national differences. By joining forces from accross the continent, they would, visioned Macron, be drivers of educational innovation and the quest for excellence.
In such a quest for excellence, and to promote such internationalisation and mobility of its students, the University of Helsinki joined Una Europa in October 2019.
Una Europa is one of the by now 41 European University alliances funded under the European Universities Initiative by the Erasmus+ programme. In the spirit of both Merkel and Macron, the European Universities Initiative is designed to significantly strengthen mobility of students and staff, and foster the quality, inclusiveness and competitiveness of European higher education.
For the University of Helsinki, being part of Una Europa means that we are building an entirely new kind of strategic partnership with our seven partners from all four corners of Europe, from Bologna to Edinburgh and Krakow to Madrid.
Mobility and its enhancement are key to Una Europa partners and our common future. Once the pandemic allows us to travel again, physical encounters between students and staff from different universities are crucial for the Una Europa community. Yet, we are also strongly investing in virtual learning environments and means of communication to build opportunities for accessible and environmentally sustainable virtual mobility between our universities.
Indeed, Sustainability is one of the academic focus areas that Una Europa has initiated its collaboration. The other four focus areas are Data Science & AI, Cultural Heritage, European Studies, and One Health. Together, the focus areas and their cross-fertilization will boost the solving of the grand challenges of our time.
This blog is here to help us imagine together, what Una Europa means to us at the University of Helsinki. What are the opportunities that it offers? What can we, together, achieve by belonging to this new type of alliance?
Una Europa offers us a chance to be bold, to build a new kind of a university and a new kind of a university ecosystem. What does the university of the future look like and how can we at the University of Helsinki be part of shaping it?
Hanna Snellman, Vice-Rector for International Affairs