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ATHENA 2020 -2023

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ATHENA 2020 -2023

The University of Maribor has been a very active full partner in the European ATHENA University project, co-funded by the European Union under the Erasmus+ programme [project no. Reference: 10104096].

ATHENA European University, the acronym from the English name – Advanced Technology Higher Education Network Alliance, is one of the 41 European universities selected in the call for proposals for the programme until 2021.

As an important part of the European Higher Education and Research Area, the European Universities Initiative aimed to establish strategic and sustainable cooperation between higher education institutions for the benefit of students, teaching and research staff and society at large. The European University ATHENA was also established with these goals in mind, its founding members being medium-sized universities from seven European countries: France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, and Slovenia.

University of Maribor’s integrated approach with a focus on research and development

The University of Maribor actively participated in all nine ATHENA Work Packages and was the coordinator and, thus, the leader of Work Package 4 (WP4) – Research and Development (R&D). The aim of WP4 was to establish an integrated research area between the participating partners, in which researchers can develop joint projects and thus contribute to the strategic objectives of the European Higher Education and Research Area. The most prominent achievements of this work package are, among others, the ATHENA Research and Development Cooperation Model, the web hub for researchers, the Shared Resources Directory and the ATHENA Research Book (Volumes 1 and 2). The successful and highly operational concept of the ATHENA Research and Innovation Coordinators (ARICs) has also been developed.

The Cooperation Model for R&D identifies key activities, collaboration and common understanding to support the partners involved in their efforts to advance research and development jointly. The model serves as a platform for identifying research capacities and conceptualising and orchestrating innovative ideas.

Cooperation Model for R&D

The Shared Resources Directory brings together the research capacities of ATHENA’s partners, enabling the coordination of different research stakeholders in pursuit of common goals and advancing scientific endeavours. The Directory is a repository and communication tool for research cooperation, with ATHENA’s priority research areas (coordinated among the ATHENA Research Board members) and a set of common research infrastructures.

Shared Resources Directory: the functional areas

Two volumes of the ATHENA Research Book were published as part of the R&D work package, but with the intensive involvement of all partners. The book introduces an environment for the promotion and reporting of collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects by experienced and junior researchers and contributes to the development of the innovation capacity of the collaborating partners. Both ATHENA Research Books are published open access by the University of Maribor Press (Volume 1, Volume 2).

The ATHENA Research Book, Volume 2

University of Maribor’s involvement in ATHENA activities

In the European ATHENA University, the University of Maribor has been intensively active – alongside the highlighted R&D segment – in all other areas, such as higher and lifelong education, cooperation with industry and knowledge transfer, international cooperation and mobility, and dissemination and communication with various audiences. In this way, the University of Maribor has connected internal and external stakeholders of partner institutions with the Slovenian environment. The following are extracts from the final project report.

ATHENA: governance

A comprehensive governance and management framework for ATHENA was implemented, with statutes, operational guidelines and a strategic business plan. A Higher Education Market Observatory was also set up and implemented with the coordination of the annual ATHENA Rectors’ meetings. The overall governance and management structure has also linked the handling of the University’s key tasks to education, research, internationalisation and innovation.

ATHENA: international orientation

The international orientation has been one of the essential and outstanding activities of ATHENA European University, contributing to building a strong and deep cooperation between all the partner institutions in the project and expanding internationally. To achieve this objective, ATHENA has established two permanent bodies: the International Committee and the International Relations Office. In addition, the ATHENA European Student Network (ATHENA ESN) and the Student Council have served as pillars in supporting international activities among students.

ESN ATHENA Alliance delegation present at the Erasmus Generation Meeting 2024

ATHENA: education

At the core of ATHENA’s educational structures were flexible and internationally oriented learning pathways for students within the competencies strands (joint delivery of content delivered by the Alliance partners, which are “interchangeable” due to similar learning outcomes) and the delivery of common online international learning (COIL) content. Special emphasis was placed on learning through challenges such as BlendEd and PRAXIS, hackathons, and internships supported by co-creation centres and makerspaces (FabLabs). Blended Intensive Programmes (BIPs) were organised, which were interdisciplinary and designed to respond to societal needs: sustainable entrepreneurship, smart societies, digital environmental geo-data and so on.

ATHENA: innovation and cooperation with industry

Developing and fostering close collaboration with industry has been a key component of ATHENA’s activities. To bridge the gap between academia and industry and to overcome the skills shortage in companies, we have worked to get a realistic picture of industrial challenges and needs in the regions and, in collaboration with industrial partners, developed new forms of exchanges, learning and teaching, and joint research activities to meet these needs (further education and training, joint ATHENA Career Service, international meetings of lecturers and researchers with representatives of companies and chambers of commerce and industry.) ATHENA has also developed new forms of exchange, learning and teaching, and joint research activities to meet these needs (further education and training and the joint ATHENA Career Service, international meetings of lecturers and researchers with company and chambers of commerce).

ATHENA: events and initiatives

The University of Maribor has actively and intensively participated in ATHENA events and initiatives aimed at the wider community, such as the ATHENA Talks, the European Researchers’ Night, the World Intellectual Property Day, and activities to promote gender equality and inclusion (International Day of Women and Girls in Science, International Women’s Day, International Girls in ICT Day and International Women in Engineering Day. ATHENA organised a four-part Seminars Series and a round table on “Smart integration” to mark the transition from the Slovenian to the French Presidency of the European Union. The final meeting was held in Orleans with a roundtable where high-level panellists addressed local challenges in the presence of regional and municipal authorities.

The University of Maribor held the first live ATHENA partners’ meeting, where Rectors and ATHENA Coordinators attended a meeting of Secretaries of State and Directors of Higher Education and Research on the occasion of Slovenia’s Presidency of the EU Council and a declaration of common objectives was signed by the Rectors.

Rectors: Signing of the Declaration of Common Goals (Ljubljana, 29 September 2021)

ATHENA as a permanent feature of the European Education and Research Area

Alongside the activities and increased visibility in the education, research, innovation and international fields, it was also important to establish a strong brand for ATHENA. This was not only based on the work of the communication team and comprehensive visuals but was also supported by the implementation of market research to position the Alliance in an overarching way. All these activities provided strategic information and helped to make strategic decisions that have led to ATHENA becoming a permanent entity in the European higher education and research landscape.