Getting to the Heart of a Future European University

The European landscape is shifting, and in political, social and economic spheres, the future is uncertain. This can often bring with it a sense of fear and unease. It is hard to prepare for the unknown; Brexit is a case in point. However, uncertainty can also generate opportunity and creativity. It can provide the perfect conditions for innovative thinking to flourish. 

The European Universities initiative, founded by the European Commission, provides an opportunity to make something positive out of this uncertainty. The aim is to bring together a new generation of creative Europeans who can cooperate across languages, borders and disciplines to address societal challenges and skills shortages faced in Europe. Maastricht University is taking a leading role in the Young Universities for the Future of Europe alliance (YUFE), which is one of 17 alliances of European universities to develop and implement the first models for a European University.

Design Thinking for the Future

The beating heart of this initiative is the students. So, what do they think of this initiative, and how is their voice being heard?

Damien Nunes, innovation coach and service designer at UMIO’s Service Science Factory, is mobilising UM’s network to try to find out. He has facilitated several “student experience journey” workshops with both staff and students at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and as part of the International Staff Week with international colleagues from the Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN) and the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN)

Damien invites colleagues and students to think differently about the future of Universities. He introduces Design Thinking innovation methodology to activate some dynamic and fruitful outcomes. Asking speculative ‘what if’ questions and imagining possible futures, can be a useful way to open up the debate and discuss the kinds of futures people want and avoid the least desirable ones.

Asking Key Questions

Damien’s inspiring workshops address the following questions:

”What could a future European University look and feel like for students?”

 “What university services need to be designed to provide a unique experience?”

Using a  Design Thinking approach encourages a different kind of mindset. The Design Thinking method is suited for solving complex problems and people are central to the methodology by always defining problems based on human need. Solutions are determined by brainstorming and ideation sessions, and then the use of prototyping tests the ideas and the solutions in practice.

What do the students think?

Empathy is a key element in understanding what students find important and why. The purpose is to generate student-driven insights, rather than validating staff assumptions about “what is good for students” This approach arrives at a true understanding of students’ needs and wants.

Placing the student at the heart of the European University initiative from the beginning lays the foundations needed for the goals of the European Universities to be reached. Innovative thinking and a different mindset might just be what is needed to navigate the uncertainty. After all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

About Damien Nunes

Damien has a background in design and is currently a project leader and service designer at the Service Science Factory, which is part of UMIO. He facilitates projects, workshops and inspires creativity within (project) groups to develop new innovative service concepts.

Send Damien a message: E-mail

Visit Damien’s  LinkedIn  page.

Find out more about Innovation and Design Thinking

If you’d like to make innovation part of your DNA, you might be interested in UMIO’s learning trajectories.