Mattia Bellotti: ‘We want EUTOPIA to stand out and be visible’
Back Mattia Bellotti: ‘We want EUTOPIA to stand out and be visible’
Mattia Bellotti: ‘We want EUTOPIA to stand out and be visible’
Interview with Mattia Bellotti, Secretary General of the EUTOPIA Alliance, before the EUTOPIA Week in Lisbon, and discussing on UPF's role in the Alliance
Mattia Bellotti (Mezzomerico, Italy, 1991) has been Secretary General of the EUTOPIA Alliance since March of this year. An engineer by training, in recent years he has also become involved in European affairs and higher education through his work at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The opportunity to become general secretary was a ‘natural step forward’ for him, which he enthusiastically embraced.
It has been less than half a year since your appointment. How has it been so far?
Yes, it’s been only three months! It has been great but also, of course, quite challenging. EUTOPIA is an alliance of ten universities –and I’ve worked with more than ten universities at a time before– but what we are pursuing is a much deeper collaboration that will affect not only specific departments. That poses a challenge but is also an opportunity to meet a lot of people.
Although not uncommon, European university alliances are still largely unknown. What are they and why are they important?
There are currently 44 European alliances, and the European Commission plans to grow this number further over the coming years. The initiative already affects hundreds of universities across Europe, and it is quite important, as the European Commission has thrown its weight behind it. I completely agree with the ultimate goal of this initiative, which is to transform how we educate, collaborate and conduct research across Europe.
"We have a common vision of creating a true partnership, truly connected communities, in order to build a more open, inclusive and sustainable Europe"
What difference does an alliance make for a university or institute of higher education?
Partnering in an alliance –as opposed to with a single university– completely changes how European and non-European universities collaborate with each other. This has huge potential. There is also a big difference in terms of how people within the universities perceive collaboration at the European level. EUTOPIA’s goal would be to show people at each of the partner universities how they have more challenges and opportunities than they might have had without the collaboration it involves.
How would you define EUTOPIA as an alliance? Is it very different from others?
Some alliances are single-topic alliances. For instance, there are green alliances, well-being alliances, research alliances, etc. Such alliances have a very specific goal and, in some ways, it is easier to build that kind of collaboration around a specific topic. The advantage and challenge of EUTOPIA is that it is an alliance encompassing different types of universities, of different sizes, from across Europe. Although this might at first make finding a common goal for the alliance as a whole more difficult, EUTOPIA’s great advantage is that all its members share the same values. We have a common vision of creating a true partnership, truly connected communities, in order to build a more open, inclusive and sustainable Europe. That’s a unique value.
"We aim to maintain and leverage the local values of each university, each culture, in order to elevate them to a higher level"
Every university has its own local identity, yet these projects could be seen as paving the way to smoothing over these differences, failing to guarantee respect for local identities and the different cultures. How does EUTOPIA juggle these two ideas?
What we are trying to do by building EUTOPIA is connect communities. The idea is to do so from the local to the global level, meaning that the member universities should be connected at the local level, too, and really retain their own identity, perspective, culture, lives, and values. We aim to maintain and leverage the local values of each university, each culture, in order to elevate them to a higher level, without, of course, changing the local values of each institution.
What is behind the goal of having global partners, if EUTOPIA is a European alliance?
EUTOPIA’s primary aim is to work on societal challenges that have an impact at the local, European and global level. The advantage of having global partners within our alliance would be the possibility of involving them in the process of defining these challenges and implementing the projects we develop to address them. We want them to listen, but we also want to hear from them and, at the same time, have them physically involved.
One of the alliance’s main projects is EUTOPIA More, the successor of the pilot project EUTOPIA 2050. Pompeu Fabra University is coordinating this project. What is expected of UPF?
Exactly, UPF is coordinating the new EUTOPIA More phase. We are also working on several other projects to secure additional funding and get people involved, so EUTOPIA More is not the alliance’s only project, but it will be the central one for the next four, maybe even six years. UPF is stepping up to coordinate this project, and we expect them to be involved in all the activities and work packages, liaising with all ten communities, as well as the global partners. At the top will be UPF, which will be involved in the project’s coordination and management, as well as the construction of the idea of the alliance in general.
The immediate challenge is EUTOPIA Week, set to be held in Lisbon in less than a week. How are the preparations going? How do you feel about it?
It will be my first EUTOPIA Week, so I am really excited and curious to see how it goes. I’ve heard about it from my colleagues, but you always want to see things for yourself and experience them directly, so I am looking forward to doing that. The preparation team in Lisbon are doing a great job putting everything in place, with the help of the coordinators and other partners, of course. Given the sheer number of people involved from the different universities, it is also a very attractive time to hold all the meetings and activities.
"At the top will be UPF, which will be involved in the construction of the idea of the alliance in general"
What are the main topics and challenges that EUTOPIA will address at this edition of EUTOPIA Week?
First, we will hold all the management and governance meetings. There, we will also discuss the main challenges we are facing, following the implementation of the new governance system with the launch of EUTOPIA More. It is not a complete overhaul of the previous system, but rather an improvement on it. The Staff Council, made up of academic and non-academic staff from each university, will also meet, with the goal of bringing EUTOPIA inside the universities and getting more people involved. We will also hold the work package meetings and meetings from other projects. Additionally, we’ve been doing a branding exercise for the past year, and we will be launching our new branding strategy for students, researchers and all the projects, to ensure we are all aligned with it.
EUTOPIA is quite young. One of its goals is to become better known and gain recognition. What are the goals of this new branding strategy? Where does EUTOPIA aspire to be?
The main idea driving this branding strategy is to create a unified EUTOPIA brand. We are trying to establish a strong positioning at every university and be aligned with the same type of brand. The Lisbon workshop will be the starting point, but we will have to work on it continuously for the next year. We want EUTOPIA to stand out and be visible. As I said earlier, there are currently 44 European alliances; we do not know if all of them will survive. We want EUTOPIA to be one of the alliances that does and, for that, we need a strong platform.
"We want EUTOPIA to be one of the alliances that survives"
Could you give us some examples of how EUTOPIA is being received in our communities?
We are trying to get students, researchers and lecturers involved in all of EUTOPIA’s activities. This has been happening at some universities: we have opportunities for students, for teachers (with our Connected Communities of Education and Research), and for researchers (with our Young Leaders Academy or the postdoctoral fellowship we offer). We have a portfolio of opportunities for EUTOPIA’s entire target audience, which, again, includes students, academic staff, non-academic staff, researchers and lecturers. We need strong and aligned communication within all the universities to do this, and we are also trying to identify internally what the best practices are to get people involved.
Let’s talk about the future. How do you imagine EUTOPIA in three years?
Three years might be a bit too soon, but with a slightly longer horizon of, say, 10 years, we would like to have a EUTOPIA College and a EUTOPIA Institute, two main institutions to coordinate all of EUTOPIA’s innovation and research under a strong brand and through programmes involving all the partner universities. With the Connected Communities, we are developing the means to make this happen in the next few years.
"We can consider ECOTOPIA our first step to a joint education programme involving different universities across Europe"
Would that include joint degrees?
A joint education programme offered by our ten universities is one of the proposed paths. We already have the ECOTOPIA programme, which is our first joint bachelor’s degree programme, offered by seven of our universities. We can consider it the first step to a joint education programme involving different universities across Europe. The model involves leveraging the partnership to allow students to move freely between these universities either physically, through mobility programmes, or through joint online activity. Again, though, it is just a first step.
What are the barriers to achieving that?
Creating a joint education programme and a framework for providing student opportunities across ten different countries is a challenge. Working with that many countries slows the process down, and it will take some time. We are currently also working as EUTOPIA with EDLab to determine, along with three other alliances, the best ways to collaborate on joint education programmes in Europe. Hopefully, within a year’s time we will have a better idea of how to facilitate and speed up the process of creating a joint degree. Even if we have a nice concept of a programme today, we can’t launch it tomorrow, because certain steps need to be taken before the programme can be put in place.
Interview by Joan Abel Yuste