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ENHANCING the European Research and Innovation Area

By Sarah Fowkes, Senior Project Officer, ENHANCE Alliance

The ENHANCE Alliance envisions a world where scientists and students work closely with society to develop constructive solutions that tackle our world’s most pressing challenges. A crucial driver of this synergy is the European University. While education is at the heart of the ENHANCE mission, research and innovation are strongly connected, and this joint approach guides our approach to ENHANCE activities. Efforts in this direction are in particular supported by the ENHANCERIA project – the Horizon SwafS (Science with and for Society) project for which the ENHANCE Alliance was awarded funding in August 2020.


The core objective of ENHANCERIA is to support and strengthen the research and innovation dimensions of the ENHANCE Alliance. It develops a transformation agenda for the Alliance, focusing on the role of universities as drivers and enablers of sustainable development. In doing so we aim to bring together creative citizens to cooperate across languages, borders and disciplines to address societal challenges, and contribute towards the European Research Area. In particular the project focuses on four of the transformation modules identified by the European Commission, namely:


  1. Strengthen human capital
  2. Involve citizens, civil society and public/cities authorities
  3. Reinforce cooperation with non-academic actors
  4. Share research infrastructures and other resources



The UNSDGs, the Horizon Europe missions, and the twin digital green transition all increasingly require universities to work differently and to collaborate more closely with the public sector, governments, citizens and industry. This implies a stronger integration of social actors and of non-scientific knowledge into research. The ENHANCERIA project supports the gradual institutionalisation of transdisciplinary research and other participatory methods, through sharing of best practice and joint exploration of the challenges that universities face in establishing these approaches.


In the first year of the project we have carried out comprehensive mapping of the different cooperation models, open science mechanisms, formats for citizen involvement and methods for knowledge exchange between science and society that are present within the Alliance. This foundation is now feeding into new frameworks for integrated knowledge exchange, as we begin to develop strategic pathways for supporting structures and routes to transdisciplinary research in the Alliance. 


This focus on transdisciplinary research and co-creation with societal actors also feeds into the educational activities led within the ENHANCE Alliance. For example, the creation of the ENHANCE Transdisciplinary Lab for Societal Transformation will spearhead our cooperation with society, including through living labs and challenge-based learning activities implemented together with external partners.



Through the ENHANCERIA project and other complementary activities, ENHANCE aims to contribute to key European policy objectives, including the goals of the European Innovation Agenda and the vision for a new European Research Area. In this regard, we build our approach on all four areas of the knowledge square – education, research, innovation and service to society.


The Alliance works, for example, to contribute to the need for skilled workers and entrepreneurs in the field of deep technology, and to address the green and digital skills gap that must be overcome by the twin transition. As European Universities of Technology, we for example put emphasis on sustainable innovation practices. Entrepreneurial skills and experience are increasingly regarded as valuable competencies in the labour market. We aim to equip our graduates with these skills, integrating new methods and innovative approaches to our teaching and research. In ENHANCERIA we explore how we can embed this approach in our universities, and how European universities of technology can best show SEI leadership. For example, ENHANCE universities are developing a framework to measure sustainable impact, with the goal of supporting universities in being able to assess the potential of research-projects to drive sustainable innovation.


Four pilot topics guide our educational and research activities: – digitalisation and AI, Climate Action, Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities. These topics reflect the common and complementary research strengths within ENHANCE, regional priorities, and contribute to Europe’s priorities and the UNSDGs. We bring together students, researchers, educators and societal actors in different formats to work collectively on grand challenges and explore innovative teaching and learning methods.



The impact for members of the ENHANCE community, from students, to researchers and professors, to lifelong learners, to administrative staff, and more, is always at the heart of what we do. We believe the European University has great potential to strengthen the research and innovation dimension of higher education institutions, and to improve outcomes for our communities. Their involvement in the ENHANCE projects is therefore crucial – via the ENHANCE General Assembly, as a participant in an educational offer, as a member of the senior Alliance leadership, a contributor to exchange formats and joint working groups, or via other means – the input from members of the ENHANCE community is invaluable.


Whether in our education activities, where we drive the application of cutting-edge pedagogical innovation, tackling the need for a deeper understanding of how current and future generations learn using disruptive technologies, or in research policy, where we use our position to advocate for progress in research assessment or open science, or support increased research mobility, the overarching mission is always to bring about transformative impact for our communities. That includes our local communities beyond the walls of our universities – we want to connect science with society by improving conditions to allow researchers to experiment with innovative ideas while simultaneously teaching, and embracing cooperation with industry and societal stakeholders.


If you want to get involved in the ENHANCE mission to build a European University fit for the future of Europe then check out our educational offers here or find out more about our research and innovation activities here.