Calling for regional cooperation in education

UiS and the mayor of Stavanger recently gathered in Brussels to discuss cooperation with ECIU University. How can universities and regions grow stronger and attract more EU funds together?

Mayor of Stavanger, Kari Nessa Nordtun, speaking in front of group Mayor of Stavanger, Kari Nessa Nordtun, describing the Stavanger region in Brussels.

With a letter of support, the Stavanger region has professed its support for the establishment of a European university. However, Maarten van Steen, chairman of the European Consortium of Innovative Univiersities (ECIU) Smart Regions working group, believes that this ambition can be taken a few steps further still. Mayors and the regional top management from all ECIU regions therefore gathered in Brussels on 3 March.

Said van Steen: “Regions should be better organised so they can benefit more from EU funds.”

Better financing

 “The goal of this meeting is to make sure that the regions, including their local ECIU partner, will organise themselves better,” says van Steen, whose normal job is that of scientific director of the University of Twente's Digital Society Institute.

"I asked the Twente Board to be involved to draw up an up-to-date list of businesses, so that when the European Union issues a call, we can quickly find out to whom it might be of interest. When all regions do this, they can make sure together that regional, digital issues feature more prominently on the European agenda. At the same time, we will be better able to make use of European financing.”


The more than forty participants gathered at the head office of Neth-ER, the association for the Dutch knowledge field on 4th March. With presentations, representatives from eight ECIU regions explained what makes their region unique, what their region's prominent themes are and what topics they would like to add to the agenda.

Next, the attendees talked about, among other things, organic food in the French region of Occitania, cross-fertilisation in the Swedish region of Östergötland, the 181 nationalities living in Stavanger, the high quality of life in the Italian region of Trento and the Nokia Legacy in the Finnish region of Tampere. These are just a few examples of the extensive regional diversity of unique selling points.

Smart Regions

Van Steen explains that each partner university is located in a so called “rurban” regions. “Many of these universities were formed to compensate for economic decline. Today, they give their regions a socio-economic boost. They are rural regions with solid centres. These regions require different attention than cities.”

No Smart Cities then, but Smart Regions. This is backed by a special Smart Region Agenda. “I developed this agenda together with my ECIU colleagues. We introduced it at the end of last year. With it, we give the European “rurban” regions and the digital issues they face the attention they need.”


The EU has various funds dedicated to regional development. The available budgets are currently being reassessed and the next long-term budget will run for seven years from 2021 to 2027 and will invest substantially in climate- and environment-related objectives.

Normunds Popens, Deputy Director-General of DG Regio gave a keynote and stated that the so-called Green Deal represents an enormous transition for some regions. “Some regions have no idea how to innovate. We are there to lend a hand.” He also stressed the importance of interregional collaboration. “It already exists to some extent, but not on the scale that the European Commission would like to see.”

His message: foster cooperation.

Starting the work

That message was well taken by the participants: At the end of the meeting, they agreed on starting to work together on the important topic of attracting and retaining talent. 

Text and photo: Sandra Pool, University of Twente