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INVEST European University – why it is needed and what it is all about?

Erasmus+ European Univer­sities is a flagship programme devel­oping higher education in a more ambitious and holistic manner than ever seen before. The programme sets goals high: the alliances are expected to reshape the higher education programmes to meet the ideal of the European degree, create a completely new kind of physical and virtual inter-European campus enabling students and staff to work, learn and do research together, and build research, devel­opment and innovation (RDI) commu­nities that can mitigate European challenges and promote sustain­ability (European Univer­sities Initiative).

Thus, the alliances are to both contribute to the European Education Area following the conclu­sions of the European Commission (EC), and to implement the aims of the European Research Area in their RDI, creating applicable showcases that any other higher education institute can benefit from. Fortu­nately, the EC acknowl­edges that the challenges and ambitions set for the alliances do take time, and has set a programme framework that offers three funding calls with 3 + 4 + 2-year oppor­tu­nities for each alliance. When successful, proceeding with the alliance’s specific aims and objec­tives, and showing concrete results, the funding may even cover a period of nine years, providing a remarkable oppor­tunity to make a real change (Conclu­sions on European Univer­sities 2021; European Univer­sities Initiative).

Karelia University of Applied Sciences has been part of the INVEST European University alliance since 2020 and is close to the end of the first period of funding and revising strategy for INVEST 2.0 to be ready for the coming call. What is this all about and why are we involved? This article provides a brief overview reflecting INVEST’s key objec­tives and workplan,
and discusses the added value of the European Univer­sities programme.


INVEST, the Innova­tions of Regional Sustain­ability European University Alliance, is a consortium of five pioneering univer­sities: Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra (SUA, Slovakia, coordi­nator), Karelia University of Applied Sciences (Karelia, Finland), University of Agribusiness and Rural Devel­opment (UARD, Bulgaria), University of Thessaly (UTH, Greece), and Van Hall Laren­stein University of Applied Sciences (VHL, the Netherlands). 

The coordi­nator envisaged the European University programme to meet its strategic inter­na­tion­al­i­sation goals and started to build a group of partners with similar interests to join the consortia. To be even stronger during the next programme stage, INVEST plans to extend the group of partners up to seven or eight for the coming 2023 call. For Karelia, the INVEST partnership was a perfect match from the first request: the key areas resonated beauti­fully with the Karelia2030 strategy goals of promoting inter­na­tion­al­i­sation of education, boosting inter­na­tional RDI and providing oppor­tu­nities for inter­na­tion­al­i­sation for all. INVEST was funded in 2020 and ranked high, with 90 points. 

Following the vision, INVEST enhances the sustain­ability and inclu­siveness of the partner regions, promotes innovation in the education system and research methods, and invests in students to become active citizens and future shaping profes­sionals for a more sustainable Europe. The alliance has four strategic pillars: (1) Compet­itive education and valuable learning outcomes, (2) collective excellent research and innovation, (3) high mobility levels beyond Europe, and (4) networking as the platform for future education and research, covering the three main focus areas – the Water, Energy Food and Environment Nexus, Quality of Life and Entrepreneurship.

It is quite an ambitious, somewhat abstract and high-reaching vision, isn’t it? Yet it isstill achievable in time when considered from the objec­tives and action plan perspectives.

INVEST objec­tives and action plan

To turn the vision into living reality, INVEST has six key objec­tives to work with. The key opera­tional areas are related to the main challenges that have to be resolved to be able to meet the European Education Area aims. Thus, the INVEST objec­tives are: defin­ition of joint gover­nance of partner univer­sities; identi­fi­cation of tools for mitigating challenges in joint degree accred­i­tation; systemic joint degree curriculum and imple­men­tation programme and facil­i­tation of other non-degree learning oppor­tu­nities; joint promotion and facil­i­tation of student and staff mobility in physical, virtual and hybrid forms; elabo­ration of joint, research-intensive, but work-relevant pedagogy; and, finally, living lab estab­lishment or/and shared opera­tional living lab working rules into all partner regions to serve the needs of education and joint research, devel­opment and innovation actions (see Table 1).

Table 1. INVEST key objec­tives (INVEST project proposal, 2020, 11) 

Theme of the objective Description 
(1) Gover­nance Structure Creation of democ­ratic gover­nance structure in which managers, staff and students determine together in close consul­tation with stake­holders the content and future of INVEST. 
(2) Joint European Accred­i­tation System Devel­opment of a joint INVEST Accred­i­tation Framework for degree courses (BSc, MSc and PhD) to overcome the differ­ences between the different accred­i­tation systems. 
(3) Joint Degree Programmes Devel­opment of joint European degrees, and creation of links from vocational training to higher education. Demand-driven, partic­i­patory applied research projects conducted in so-called living labs and results from other current scien­tific research will be an integral part of the educa­tional programmes that will be developed. Automatic recog­nition of study credits by the home university is another goal for the use of this tool. 
(4) Mobility of Staff and Students Foresee the imple­men­tation of physical, virtual and hybrid mobility, where students from BSc, MSc, PhD lifelong learning programmes, and staff can move to/stay at another university to study, teach, do research, work, or share services and experi­ences, in the spirit of the joint European education policy. Mobil­ities will be facil­i­tated through INVEST Virtual Campus. Mobility will also be strengthened through partic­i­pation in winter and summer schools. 
(5) Joint Vision on Education and Pedagogy Design and imple­men­tation of new, appro­priate, innov­ative teaching, learning and learning strategies. Estab­lishment of joint educa­tional principles that will be incor­po­rated in the new pedagogy, including multi­dis­ci­plinary approaches, challenge-, compe­tence- and work-based methods, and the fostering of trans­versal compe­tences. ICT-related learning and evalu­ation methods will be applied. 
(6) Living Labs A living lab and work rules will be estab­lished at each of the partner universities. 

All these key objec­tives are elabo­rated into living practices within the INVEST workplan relying on co-creation practices. However, meeting the objec­tives to their full extent is not possible during the first stage of the funding, which covers the three years from October 2020 to September 2023. All the key opera­tional areas are highly demanding to work in, not only due to national differ­ences in education policy, degree awarding and funding models, but also as they call for profound and holistic joint under­standing, and commitment and involvement of the partner univer­sities. Conse­quently, the first three years are needed to create the pilot models and tools on which to build further achievements. 

The INVEST workplan includes five work packages, each coordi­nated by one of the INVEST partners (see Figure 1 below, which shows the work packages, their coordi­nators and key work contents). Work Package 1 is coordi­nated by SUA and it facil­i­tates the whole INVEST devel­opment process and internal commu­ni­cation between the consortium members, monitors the budget and looks after reporting.  Work Package 2 is coordi­nated by UARD and elabo­rates the gover­nance model and tools for the alliance to work as one entity in the future. Work Package 3 is coordi­nated by VHL and is devoted to curriculum devel­opment and living lab estab­lishment. Work Package 4 is coordi­nated by Karelia and elabo­rates tools for INVEST degrees and joint services, visualises mobility oppor­tu­nities, creates the entre­pre­neurship pathway and builds a process for staff capacity building. Finally, Work Package 5 coordi­nated by UTH builds the virtual tools for the alliance and promotes joint education policy contribution. 

Figure 1. INVEST work packages, work package coordi­nators and key content.

As a whole, INVEST is a becoming a joint learning organ­i­sation that system­at­i­cally works for the completion of its workplan to meet the vision and facil­i­tates learning oppor­tu­nities for each staff member to enable the trans­for­mation in time. The co-creation process is a highly demanding process that is sometimes full of stress due to concerns about all the tasks and different viewpoints, while at other times full of joy and happiness over achieve­ments and consensus. However, it is all a big investment for a better future.

Discussion: Why is the European Univer­sities programme necessary?

One might ask why we need the European Univer­sities programme, including INVEST, with its ambitious goals, and how come the objec­tives have not been met thus far with other tools available? What is the added value that these challenging and resource-demanding entities bring to higher education? Why did the European Commission fund 41 working alliances until now and is planning to expand up to 60 by 2025?

First, to elaborate on why, one could state that the European Univer­sities programme enables a holistic approach to reshaping higher education in a completely new manner. The Erasmus programme, with its different key actions and calls, offers us a great variety of tools that are widely used. However, European Univer­sities is the first Erasmus programme ever that enables profound strategic devel­opment actions within one entity, bridging education, mobility, RDI, platforms and services, HR devel­opment and strategic leadership into one devel­opment process in a way the other programme tools haven’t enabled before. The European University initiative is ambitious, demanding and sometimes difficult, and requires a suffi­ciently long timeline. Therefore, the three-call appli­cation oppor­tunity for each funded or to-be-funded alliance is definitely needed.

What is also worth noting is that the European Univer­sities programme fosters solid higher education management and gover­nance involvement that is really needed to make the turn. It is obvious that univer­sities and univer­sities of applied sciences do not change if senior management does not support the change profoundly, no matter how innov­ative, skilful and ambitious the staff and their actions are. Real change calls for strong joint vision, commitment and involvement of higher education leaders. This approach is embedded into the programme as one of its key elements.

Finally, the European Univer­sities programme links Erasmus with the Horizon programme in a new way we haven’t experi­enced in other Erasmus tools. It also system­at­i­cally links HEIs with their regional ecosystems that promote applied RDI intensity and business devel­opment. In addition, the supportive capacity-building tools for the alliances offered by Horizon enable European Univer­sities to increase its joint Horizon involvement and contribute to the European challenges. The supportive tools promote the rescaling of compe­tences and working with joint RDI strategies more deeply. This also fosters the less experi­enced Horizon actors to become more involved in time, again meeting the needs of the European Research Area. The RDI intensity strengthens systematic co-creation between the academic and applied univer­sities and their working life partners, thus supporting the relevance of higher education.

To summarise, the holistic nature of the programme, the strong programme-embedded involvement of the leaders, and direct integration links with the Horizon programme enable the European Univer­sities programme to create the added value we all need and will benefit from. This programme enables showcase devel­opment and work with European education policy, addressing educa­tional challenges and potential. By devel­oping good practices, testing models and addressing important questions to be solved, the alliances can ensure benefits for all. That is why the added value of the European Univer­sities programme is obvious. And INVEST does its best to meet expectations.


Liisa Timonen, Head of Inter­na­tion­al­i­sation, Karelia University of Applied Sciences


Conclu­sions on European Univer­sities. 2021. EC General Secre­tariat of the Council. 3.10.2022.

European Univer­sities initiative. 29.9.2022.

INVEST project proposal. 2020. Erasmus+ European Univer­sities call 2020. INVEST Consortium.