Expansion of Europe’s research universities networks

European research networking has been strengthened with a decision on Friday to expand the League of European Research Universities or LERU to 23 members – with the addition of the University of Copenhagen and Trinity College Dublin from 1 January next year – and the launch in Brussels on 21 November of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.

This follows the establishment in Amsterdam last month of another network, AURORA, comprising nine research universities, to work on solutions to globally relevant problems in areas such as sustainability, climate and energy, digital technology and human life and health. Its president is Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam rector, Professor Jaap Winter.

The University of Copenhagen and Trinity College Dublin will be joining LERU, a university network of highly selected research universities chosen on the basis of research volume, impact and funding, strengths in PhD training and recognition in academic excellence. The inclusion of the two new members is the result of a year-long process which involved both a quantitative study and strategic considerations.

LERU Secretary General Kurt Deketelaere said: “With the addition of these two excellent universities, we gain added perspectives from two countries where LERU did not have members. Each of them is unquestionably the top research university in their country. Having them join will significantly strengthen LERU’s position and enrich its capacity to contribute to European research, innovation and education policy.”

Copenhagen’s new rector

The University of Copenhagen has had a remarkably strong track record in its participation in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, notably in the Marie Sklodowska-Curie young researchers granting section, where Copenhagen is second to Oxford University in success rate for these grants.

A bonus for Copenhagen University’s European research work and hence also for LERU’s portfolio, is the appointment of Professor Henrik C Wegener as the rector from 1 March 2017. Wegener is chair of the Scientific Advice Mechanism, the high level group of scientific advisors providing the European Commission with independent scientific advice on policy issues.

Speaking to the university’s newspaper, Universitetsavisen, to outline his vision for the institution, Wegener said: “The University of Copenhagen shall be developed through a non-compromise investment in research freedom, sharp prioritising, recruiting researchers from all over the world and providing inspirational and demanding teaching of highest international quality.”

The Scientific Advice Mechanism was also in the news last week, having delivered its first report on the worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure for CO2 emissions, which addressed the issues leading up to the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal that broke a year ago. The Scientific Advice Mechanism is recommending a tougher standard for vehicle CO2 emissions.

Major Horizon 2020 player

Trinity College Dublin is a major Irish Horizon 2020 participant. Research Development Manager Doris Alexander earlier told University World News: “Trinity College’s approach to Horizon 2020 is to enable a symbiosis between its research diversification strategy and its industry engagement and global relations strategies.

“Using this approach Trinity’s mechanism has primarily focused on broadening our participation base across the college as well as providing in-depth support for European Research Council applicants and coordinators through the design and roll out of specially developed college initiatives, including a ‘Proposal Bootcamp’.”

One remarkable success in Horizon 2020 is a Trinity College-led Irish initiative securing funding to employ 71 ‘world-class’ information and communications technology or ICT experts in a new postdoctoral programme in Ireland.

It will support research at the interface of three strategically important areas of ICT: advanced materials, telecommunications networks and digital content technology, which will in turn strengthen Ireland’s ability to create and attract high-quality jobs.

In LERU’s Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020 advice paper in October, it said: “Innovative research is the basis for innovation. To address this, LERU asks for more collaborative research opportunities early in the innovation pipeline.

“LERU recommends the European Commission keeps closer track of funded projects and investigates how to better and more consistently organise cross-project networking throughout Horizon 2020, such as joint events/workshops/conferences funded by the European Commission.”

The LERU expansion to include the University of Copenhagen and Trinity College Dublin, and the AURORA and Guild networks are now targeting the last period of the Horizon 2020 programme and the planning of the next Framework Programme, FP9, which will run from 2021-28.

Ole Petter Ottersen, rector of the University of Oslo and chair of the Guild’s board, said: “The Guild represents a fresh approach to engagement and capacity-building across Europe. We are excited by the prospect of engaging closely with the European Commission, European and national parliamentarians, officials and others to secure outstanding strategic and practical outcomes that will benefit the myriad communities of Europe.”