PIONEER University Alliance: to benefit SMEs and cities in the Bern region too
08.09.2023 BFH joined PIONEER, the alliance of European universities, at the end of 2022. The presidents of the ten participating universities are currently meeting in Paris. At present, BFH is contributing above all its expertise in the field of urban energy supply to PIONEER. Corina Caduff, Vice-President Research, and Jochen Schellinger, Vice-President Teaching, explain in an interview what other collaborations are in planning and why the alliance is important for BFH and the Swiss higher education landscape.
Why is international collaboration in research and teaching so important?
Corina Caduff: With the exclusion of Switzerland from Horizon Europe, there is a great danger that the Swiss higher education landscape will be left behind internationally. Since we cannot contribute directly to the required political solution, it is all the more important that we ourselves seek out and structure our own international network.
Jochen Schellinger: Added to that, the globalisation of the world of work and the occupational realm is a fact. So we look on competencies in the area of language, intercultural exchange and working in international contexts as ‘future skills’, which we are also very eager to impart to our students.
What makes the PIONEER alliance so special?
Corina Caduff: The issues it prioritises and its focus on society. For the alliance, the emphasis is on the development of urban spaces. It’s all about promoting sustainable, inclusive and entrepreneurial ecosystems in the local setting. We’re working towards this goal alongside politics, business and the innovation scene in Bern. Here PIONEER facilitates the exchange with partner universities – that represents considerable added value.
Jochen Schellinger: Exactly. In PIONEER, the idea of an integrated European Higher Education Area is broken down to the level of the participating universities. The aim is to establish a collaboration-based European university. It is hoped this will not only drive exchange between the participating universities, but also lead to joint teaching programmes. In the long term, even European diplomas are conceivable, which PIONEER will award as a virtual university.
What benefits does PIONEER bring to BFH and the Canton of Bern from a research and teaching perspective?
Corina Caduff: In terms of research, we are responsible for the area of “Energy in the Cities”. We’re currently in the process of making contact with the corresponding research groups at various PIONEER universities. On the whole, PIONEER makes it easier for BFH to gain access to international research consortia. However, the aim is also to ensure that the alliance benefits not only BFH, but also, say, the SMEs in the Bern region or municipal authorities, by letting them participate in international projects.
Jochen Schellinger: PIONEER makes BFH – and thus also its lecturers and students – more international and competitive. Membership in a European alliance opens up material, cultural and innovative potential that also has a direct and indirect impact in the canton and in Switzerland as a whole via the students and lecturers. For example, insights gained from student project theses can flow directly into the companies that employ our students, or international study programmes are created that are open to students from all over Switzerland.
The aim is also to ensure that the alliance benefits not only BFH, but also, say, the SMEs in the Bern region or municipal authorities, by letting them participate in international projects.
Are there specific examples where BFH is involved in teaching in PIONEER?
Jochen Schellinger: The first digital courses offered by the PIONEER universities are already open and can be taken by students at the cooperating universities, e.g. as electives. But that is just the beginning. We are currently looking for opportunities to collaborate with individual PIONEER universities on the existing English-language Master’s level programmes, e.g. through student exchanges or dual degrees from two universities.
What does the collaboration in PIONEER mean to you personally?
Corina Caduff: For me, you can never have ‘too much’ international experience. Access to other teaching and research cultures, to more diversity, to new resources, more collaboration experience, general broadening of horizons… all these are cultural practices for which internationalisation is worth its weight in gold.
Jochen Schellinger: PIONEER is a unique opportunity for a large number of universities and universities of applied sciences to share their insights on innovations in teaching and the development of future-oriented courses. The personal connections that form in this context are very important for me and my work at BFH. In addition, we are sending a particularly valuable message at the present time with respect to European integration.
What is PIONEER?
The EU supports international alliances between universities. With this, it seeks to implement long-term, collaborative strategies for knowledge transfer in the European Higher Education Area. PIONEER was founded in 2020.
Universities as well as universities of applied sciences are involved, such as the Université Gustave Eiffel, the Iscte University Institute of Lisbon and Cologne University of Applied Sciences. All PIONEER members have both technical and cultural-social specialisations. This puts the Alliance in a good position to make a significant contribution to the sustainable social design of urban spaces.
Membership of PIONEER gives BFH the potential for even better networking and positioning for itself in the European Higher Education Area. This is all the more important as Swiss universities have only limited access to EU research funding as a result of the breakdown of negotiations with the EU.