Debating the impact of research on society

More than 400 university leaders and representatives from the European higher education sector met on 16 and 17 April at the annual conference of the European University Association, where Professor Rolf Tarrach, former rector of the trilingual University of Luxembourg, was elected president as the sole candidate for the position.

Tarrach succeeds Professor Maria Helena Nazare, a former rector of the University of Aveiro, as the fifth president of the EUA when he assumes the president’s role in July.

“It’s a real privilege to be elected president and represent 850 universities across Europe,” Tarrach said. “I’d like to thank the outgoing president and the board for their tireless efforts and continued commitment to the European education sector and I look forward to working with colleagues across Europe.”

The conference, titled European Universities in Research and Innovation: People, policies and partnerships, was hosted by the University of Antwerp in Belgium and delegates explored the role of research and innovation and their impact on society.

The association is the representative organisation of both the European universities and the national rectors’ conferences, and is the main voice of the higher education community in Europe. Its mission is to promote the development of a coherent system of European higher education and research.

A poster session on "The Contribution of University Research to Society" showcased examples of how university research findings had contributed to the advancement of technology and society at large. These ranged from technologies leading to improvements in health and well-being, to improved understanding of climate and weather prediction, and alternative energy sources.

The conference 'hot topic' focused on "Energy Research and Education" through the EUA’s new project ‘UNI-SET’, which aims to mobilise European universities’ research, innovation and educational capacities in the energy field.

Conference speakers included leaders of universities from Europe and the US; representatives from science organisations and representatives from European institutions, including Carlos Moedas, commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.

Lesley Wilson, secretary general of the EUA said the capacity of European universities to generate new knowledge in all fields of research and to promote innovation was greater than ever before.

“Governments and society at large hold increasingly higher expectations on the applicability of research outcomes to help in solving big societal challenges. EUA’s 2015 conference will address both new opportunities for universities to increase their research capacity and impact in society, as well as the challenges and pressures facing universities in delivering excellent research outputs and educational programmes,” Wilson said prior to the conference.