AIT and LIT – Regional University Network European University (RUN-EU)
AIT – A European Campus within the European Regional University Network (RUN-EU)
Who we are
Athlone Institute of Technology is the only higher-level educational organisation in the Midlands region of Ireland. We are ambitious, outward focused, welcoming, and engaged in our communities, our region, our country and in Europe. AIT has recently applied with Limerick Institute of Technology to become the next Technological University in Ireland.
AIT along with LIT in Ireland and six other partner higher-level educational organisations across Europe (Figure 1) have formed a European University known as the Regional University Network (RUN-EU) with a mission to secure the sustainable economic, social, cultural and environmental progress of its regions and stakeholders. Through this partnership AIT is fulfilling its Vision for 2023 to positively disrupt future ways of living, learning and working and to build new partnerships that strengthen innovation and create new and exciting opportunities for our communities.
What we did
To fulfil this vision, we actively engaged with like-minded educational organisations in Europe to form a partnership in a European Universities Initiative bid. Our overall aims were to broaden our students’ opportunities for international mobility, access to greater knowledge and innovative learning environments and to give them a sense of self as global citizens with essential skills to enable positive and sustainable change as graduates. We worked with our partners to identify a workplan (Figure 2) of core thematic areas for development and collaboration and established a framework of advisory boards which included our students and our associated partners, such as employers and national enterprise / development agencies, to provide continuous input and feedback on all our activities.
What we learned
AIT’s outward-facing global viewpoint and innovative nature enabled great international opportunities for our students and staff and ultimately provided transformational knowledge to our region’s communities and enterprise, especially in times of great difficulties.
LIT – Regional University Network European University (RUN-EU)
Who we are
As a regional organisation which uniquely spans three counties (Limerick, Tipperary and Clare), we have always been acutely aware of our critical role in the broader economic, cultural and social development of our region and beyond. With that in mind, one of the key objectives identified in the LIT Strategic Plan 2018-2022 centred around our ambition to “deepen engagement with regional, national and international higher education providers to drive growth and investment in the region.” This was very much aligned with the HEA System Performance Framework which, under Key System Objective 3, called for the development of Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) capacity through engagement with external partners with a view to “strengthening our standing to become an Innovation Leader in Europe.”
Furthermore, the Mission-Based Performance Compact (2018-2021) between LIT and the HEA referred to our clear focus on building research capacity through “international partnering with selected Universities and Organisations as sources of postgraduate students and funding.” That same Compact Agreement also outlines LIT’s commitment to “continued national and international benchmarking as a means of informing itself of best practice and identifying areas for improvement.”
LIT is currently awaiting the outcome of a recent joint application for Technological University designation in conjunction with Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT). This application for TU designation has subsequently been granted. AIT and LIT will come together to form the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest on 1 October 2021.
That recently submitted application clearly outlines the new TU’s ambition to “deliver excellence in multidisciplinary research practice and encourage collaboration between researchers and strategic European and Global partners in industry and academia.”
Put simply, LIT recognises, and always has recognised, the value of engaging and collaborating with our peer institutes across Europe in order to place us at the vanguard of research-informed higher education.
What we did
In line with our strategic objectives and HEA Compact targets, and to support and add value to our TU ambitions, LIT has actively engaged with the European Universities Initiative (EUI). The EUI envisages Europe as a global hub of education and is the flagship project of the European Education Area. Its aim is to use “learning, studying and doing research” to enable a new generation of Europeans to cooperate across borders, languages and disciplines and thus develop a stronger European identity. It is part of an EU-wide ambition to create a centralised education area which will enable students to obtain the highest academic qualifications by combining studies in multiple EU countries. A network of higher education institutions (HEIs) is being established to secure the sustainable economic, social, cultural and environmental progress of its partners and their regions. It will achieve this by delivering on the future and advanced skills necessary for its students and regional stakeholders to successfully engage in societal transformation and active citizenship. This will be facilitated through the development of innovative mobility activities driven by collaborative inter-university and inter-regional approaches in pedagogical development, research, innovation and regional engagement, which will foster at their core existing European Union principles, values and objectives.
A European Universities consortium bid was put together under the title of RUN-EU (Regional University Network – European University). This bid was successful under the second call of the European Universities Initiative and secured €5m in funding. RUN-EU brings together eight like-minded, regionally focused HEIs committed to societal transformation and sustainable regional development and, as well as LIT, it also includes our TU partner AIT. LIT is the co-coordinator of RUN-EU.
The participating HEIs represent a broad range of different types of higher education institutions including Technical Universities, Institutes of Technology, Polytechnic Institutes and Universities of Applied Science. Each one shares a common background in successful collaboration with industry and regional stakeholders in applied education and research projects. The alliance member institutes all have a regional focus and also have a proven track record in the delivery of future and advanced skills activities in teaching, learning, research and engagement relevant to future societal challenges. These challenges include future industry and sustainability, climate change, the bioeconomy and social innovation.
The HEIs, corresponding countries and associated regions included in the RUN-EU consortium are:
1. Polytechnic of Leiria – Portugal (Center Region)
2. Polytechnic of Cavado and Ave – Portugal (Northern Region)
3. Athlone IT – Ireland (Midlands Region)
4. Limerick IT – Ireland (Mid-West Region)
5. NHL Stenden – The Netherlands (Friesland Province)
6. Hame University of Applied Sciences – Finland (Southern Region)
7. Széchenyi István University – Hungary (Győr-Moson-Sopron County)
8. FH Vorarlberg – Austria (Vorarlberg)
The origins of some of the links between LIT and the partners can be traced back long before RUN-EU existed. There is a long established research and educational relationship between LIT and Polytechnic of Leiria (IPL), for example, which originated from a biotechnology project led by LIT and funded through the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The President of IPL, Dr Rui Pedrosa, led the IPL research team while the lead LIT Principal Investigator was current LIT Head of Research and Technology Transfer, Dr Paudie Murray, both of whom continue to be the key links between the institutes today.
Facilitated by the HEA, the partners have met at multiple strategic educational mission meetings in the Netherlands, Ireland (both Limerick and Athlone) and Portugal during 2018 and 2019, prior to the official launch of the RUN-EU network in the Portuguese embassy in Brussels in February 2020.
This alliance has already begun to improve the national and international competitiveness of the associated regions and their academic communities, allowing them to: (i) complement existing capital and large city regions; (ii) retain and attract young talent; and (iii) correct existing unfavourable bias in development trends in peripheral EU regions.
RUN-EU represents a new and forward-thinking education alliance which is increasing the competitiveness of and the collaboration between members in a real and meaningful way.
We are at the outset of this exciting and transformative trans-European project. Initial learnings are particularly in the areas of cross-disciplinary research and exchange mechanisms. Many more learnings will follow.
 This application for TU designation has subsequently been granted. AIT and LIT will come together to form the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest on 1 October 2021.