A new way of working: external societal stakeholders on board

ECIU | 2020-05-27

The new European University – ECIU University – is not shy in taking a novel approach to its board. The board members of all the member universities are participating in making crucial decisions together with seven so-called external, societal stakeholders who take up a pivotal role on the board. University works closely with business, city government and public organisations to solve real-life challenges.

ECIU university board has two members from Kaunas University of Technology: KTU Rector prof. Eugenijus Valatka and former KTU Student’s Association president Augustinas Laimonas Bytautas. Also, Lithuanian organisations that are committed to the project: Hella Lithuania, Lithuanian Energy, Kaunas City and District Municipalities.

“To create an innovative, challenging European university model, all stakeholders must agree, because many decisions can only be made if everyone reaches consensus. Therefore, ECIU University Board includes university rectors, directors, students, business representatives, public institutions, municipalities, and non-profit organisations. We are pleased that ECIU university board has two representatives from KTU”, – says Kristina Ukvalbergienė, institutional coordinator of ECIU University at KTU.

A new way of working

Student of new media language, Bytautas, is a member of the external board, who strongly contributes to implementing ECIU university decisions.

According to ECIU President, Victor van der Chijs, the seven external members on the board include people from the industry, a social entrepreneur, two students and a local mayor. Moreover, President emphasises that the external members are not mere “advisors”, they are an integral part of this board.

Van der Chijs admits that the board is “a big group”.

“We had about forty people attending the first board meeting. To me, this already shows the success of this concept and dedication of everyone involved”, he adds.

With that many people at the conference table, it is important to ensure that everyone has the freedom and space to have their say, says Van der Chijs.

“I believe it adds to the quality of the discussions. Still, to be both decisive and effective, we can’t all be fully immersed in everything with such a large consortium. So a lot of it boils down to trust. Luckily, at ECIU, we have known each other for quite a long time, so the trust is there”, says Van der Chijs.

With the approach for a European University, an “exceptionally exciting step is taking” by including external societal stakeholders.  Van der Chijs notes that “It’s like we’re building a house together, with everyone having their own particular set of skills and tools, all the while knowing that the concept isn’t set in stone. This process requires constant attention, sharing of best practices and continuous collaboration. But I can honestly say the foundation – the commitment and shared vision – is in place.”

Meet the external stakeholders – members of the Board

Petra Vorsteher, an entrepreneur from Hamburg, Magne Bartlett, a student at the University of Stavanger, and Onno van Veldhuizen, mayor of Enschede, are three of the seven external stakeholders. They share their main motivation behind becoming board members.

Petra Vorsteher is a pioneer in the mobile industry, a Silicon Valley veteran and the international ambassador of the Hamburg University of Technology.

“The main reason I’m excited to be a part of this board is that I truly believe in this new educational model”, Vorsteher begins. “This is the future of education, and I want to help ECIU shape that future with this university. I’m so excited to bring my own expertise into this. I’m used to working locally but always having an international impact on the companies I’ve been working with. My expertise lies in having a local focus, but working internationally. That’s always been part of my life. And I see many similarities between my background and the plans of ECIU University. I can’t wait to share my experience.”

Magne Barlett has over ten years of board experience. Including, but not limited to being a representative in the student parliament of both the University of Agder and the University of Stavanger, member of the central board in the Norwegian Union of Students and student representative at the University of Stavanger’s executive board.

“The University of Stavanger asked me to be one of the student board members of ECIU University. Besides this being a very interesting learning experience for me, I’ve always been a big advocate for more integration of Norway and Europe. In my opinion, anything that can contribute to that is a worthy cause to commit to. My motivation stems from making an impact. I did that first on a local level, followed by a regional, national and now on a European level”, he says.

Onno van Veldhuizen, mayor of Enschede says: “I’m very excited to be part of the ECIU board. All good ideas are born and implemented in a city. So if you are looking for societal impact, cities are the right place. Having a university in your city of knowledge is crucial. I’m seeing that the solid borders between the city and university of the past are becoming a more permeable membrane. Which, to me, is a promising development. We run different cities but face the same challenges. Be it in open data, internet of things and drones that will be taking up the airspace above our cities. We can collaborate to face these challenges head-on.”

The other external board members are:

Augustinas Laimonas Bytautas, New Media Language student at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). He has held several project management positions in student committees or councils and in committees in higher education institutions. Augustinas is also a council member at the Lithuanian Students’ Union and former KTU Student’s Association president.

Daniele Finocchiaro, Chairman of the Research and Innovation Committee at Confindustria, the Italian Employers’ Federation.

Ángeles Guiteras, the executive manager of the NGO Asociación Bienestar y Desarrollo (ABD) in Barcelona since 2000. He runs numerous projects and activities for people in vulnerable situations. Guiteras is also a lecturer in the Master’s program on drug addiction at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Barcelona.

Isabel Damasceno Vieira de Campos Costa, President of Coordination Commission for the Regional Development of the Central Region of Portugal (CCDRC), a public service role with responsibility to coordinate the environmental and territorial policies and services of the region while supporting local authorities and associations.

ECIU University is an EU-funded collaboration between 12 universities in the ECIU consortium. It aims to pilot an innovative, challenge-based university model.

A longer version of these interviews previously appeared in ECIU University Magazine, March 2020