Funding for project to design future universities

Europe-wide collaboration aims to make research more open and diverse
UNITE! workshop at Aalto University in February 2020. Photo: Mikko Raskinen.
UNITE! workshop at Aalto University in February 2020. Photo: Mikko Raskinen.

Aalto researchers are part of the new H2020 UNITE! “Swafs” project (Science with and for Society). The project will develop a new, shared long-term research and innovation strategy between seven European universities. The overall budget of the new H2020 EU-funded project is two million euros.

Rubén Vicente-Sáez (left) and Robin Gustafsson (right)
Rubén Vicente-Sáez (left) and Robin Gustafsson (right).

‘We are creating the university of the future – a new kind of collaborative governance model for research and innovation in the digital era. Over the next three years we will provide tools and practical policy recommendations to help create a European university with open science and innovation and its core, to help develop a sustainable world’, says doctoral candidate Rubén Vicente-Sáez, leader for the H2020 working package on open science and innovation.

Before the start of the project, Vicente-Sáez published two research articles on open science principles and practices in the digital era. From 2017 he has studied altogether 35 different research groups at Aalto University, and examined the level to which the groups take part in open science. Professor Robin Gustafsson is leading the H2020 project at Aalto and he has been collaborating with Vicente-Sáez since collecting the data.

‘Some research groups are clear agents of change in the openness of science. They are entrepreneur-minded; they participate actively in public debate; and they no longer sit alone in their laboratories. However, other researchers need to be convinced that openness is worthwhile’,Gustafsson says.

The open science policies and practices the researchers are interested in include open data sharing, open access publishing, open physical labs, citizen science, participatory design, and transdisciplinary research practices. In the new project, best practices of open science and innovation will be identified and mainstreamed with the help of 70 forerunner UNITE! research groups across science disciplines.

‘Free movement of knowledge as the next foundational freedom of Europe is the long-term goal for the project. Our roles as researchers are changing. A new kind of cooperation can emerge in a manner that turns campuses into open laboratories of experimental research’, Vicente-Sáez says.

The researchers also closely monitor the development of the UNESCO recommendation on open science.

We are creating the university of the future.

Rubén Vicente-Sáez

Removing obstacles to equality

In addition to open science and innovation, the project will also tackle themes of sustainable development and equality. Sustainable development plays a key role in the research groups to be selected for the project, and Aalto University Diversity Officer Anna Hynynen will be involved in the portion dedicated to equality.

‘Structural obstacles to gender equality still exist in universities, and these form a challenge to women's equal advancement opportunities in academic careers. The aim is to enhance equal opportunities for a fulfilling academic career and advancement, regardless of gender or any other identity aspects. Each university employee and student can contribute to enabling an equal and inclusive work and study environment, while systematic development of processes and practices in all organisational functions is also needed,’ Hynynen said.

Promoting equality can lead to enhanced diversity, which contributes to enabling scientific breakthroughs. Equality also goes to the very core of what constitutes different academic fields and disciplines, as gender balances have an effect on what is studied and taught, and what is not.

Some research groups are clear agents of change in the openness of science.

Robin Gustafsson

Virtuality and digitality are crucial

The H2020 UNITE! project, which starts at the beginning of 2021, will expand and deepen the UNITE! European University Alliance (University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering). The aim of the project is to explore and create models for university education activities at many different levels in Europe. Professor Katrina Nordström is responsible for the UNITE! alliance at Aalto.

‘The focus is on empowering students and staff to benefit from new mobility offers and packages for teaching, learning and training, both physically and digitally.  We also develop new models for joint programs with flexible study paths, where the idea is also to explore possible pan-European degrees and their requirements as well as to examine legally mandated constraints on degrees’, says Nordström.

Aalto is responsible for the development of novel teaching and learning approaches, joint programs and digital learning platforms in collaboration with Dr. Tomi Kauppinen of the Aalto Online Learning Platform.

‘For example, a virtual exchange student could choose courses available at all UNITE! partner universities. Coronavirus has increased the need to rapidly develop new types of virtual opportunities for exchange studies’, says project coordinator Johanna Kaila.

In addition to Aalto and the coordinator, the Darmstadt Technical University in Germany, members of the UNITE! network includes KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Grenoble Institute of Technology in France, the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (Barcelona Tech) in Spain, and the University of Lisbon in Portugal.

Further information:

Robin Gustafsson
H2020 PI, Associate Professor
Aalto University
[email protected]
Tel. +358 50 3160981

Rubén Vicente-Sáez
H2020 WP6 leader
[email protected]
Tel. +358 50 3251920

UNITE! at Aalto


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UNITE! opened their virtual doors to its second dialogue in September to representatives of the seven European partner universities.

Workshop at the Unite University Network meeting at Aalto

Unite! University Alliance

Aalto University is a member of Unite! alliance together with eight other European universities.

Unite! logo

UNITE! students participated in Aalto University Summer School virtual exchange course

As a pilot for developing short-term mobility Aalto University Summer School opened up its curriculum for UNITE! students. Ten UNITE! students participated in the Digital Business Master Class (6 ECTS) summer course. Engineering students across Europe were keen to complement their degree studies with business knowledge, and the course spots filled quickly. 

Students participate in virtual teamwork

UNITE! network's first dialogue event at Aalto starts to pilot joint activities

The European university alliance explores new avenues for joint actions for mobility, support services and learning.

EU-lippuja ison rakennuksen edessä.
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