It is not in the Belgian capital, but at U-Today’s editorial office that we speak with Olga Wessels. Exactly one year after we first met in Brussels. ‘I then expressed the ambition that all of Brussels will know ECIU. Well,’ she says, ‘we worked really hard on that, and we matter now.’
This is partly the result of organising events and submitting so-called position papers. ‘It all contributes to our visibility. We wrote a paper on universities as key to unlock Europe’s innovation powerhouse. And we shared ten criteria to maximise the impact of European Universities Networks. I noticed from the responses to them that our ideas were embraced.’ As the cherry on the cake, Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General of the Research & Innovation directorate, dedicated one and a half hours of his time to talking with and about ECIU during one of our meetings in Brussels. ‘In the next few years, Paquet will be playing a key role in determining the European research agenda. An appointment like this proves that we are taken seriously in Europe.’
'There is a lot of trust in each other'
According to Wessels, the commitment of the member universities to ECIU is huge. She visited nearly all members over the past year. ‘That was very positive. There is a lot of trust in each other, and in me as well. I can see this when, for example, we are writing a position paper. We receive a lot of input, and then I can put it into a paper without everyone having to read it and give an opinion. That is rather unique and really nice.’
In the coming year, a lot is going to happen in Europe. ‘Cooperation with other universities is essential to us. The approaching Brexit is of fundamental importance. We have to do something with that, as it turns everything upside down. The European Parliamentary elections are coming up, which could mean new parliamentarians and rebuilding a network.’ She continues: ‘The new commissioners will take up office in November 2019 and then it will be important to establish good contacts again. Finally, the European research and training programmes 2020 will expire. What is next then? We will be right on top of that as well.’
‘Whether the year has brought me what I expected it to? More than that. All these visits made it very intense, but it was so good to see that the commitment to ECIU is so great. I hope we will be able to keep it that way. And now I am off to the University of Trento in Italy, Dublin City University in Ireland, and to Monterrey, Mexico: the universities I have not visited so far.’
Please read more about ECIU and what is in it for you in ECIU Magazine.