We talked with three experts for international projects of the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) of Kaiserslautern about their experiences with cross-border projects. How can such projects advance regions? What is special about working together in an international team? What are the challenges and how do you personally benefit? Answers to these questions were provided by Dr. Kathrin Jörg, Samuel Hoefman and Dr. Jessica Weyer.
Dr. Kathrin Jörg, department of economy & transfer, former coordinator of MobiPro.GR, now working on the Interreg Upper Rhine KTUR project.
Samuel Hoefman, department of economy & transfer, coordinator of the Interreg Va Greater Region project MobiPro.GR, as a native Dutchman with French nationality, he is himself a cross-border traveller.
Dr. Jessica Weyer, research & project coordination department, bio-geographer by nature, responsible for EU funding.
Could you name cross-border funding programmes in which the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences is involved?
With its three locations in Kaiserslautern, Zweibrücken and Pirmasens, the university is located in the heart of the Southwest Palatinate. However, its catchment area, interests and partnerships extend far beyond this. For example, the university is a member of the TriRhenaTech Alliance of Universities of Applied Sciences on the Upper Rhine in the areas of research, teaching and transfer. For its part, the alliance has initiated several projects, which the university accompanies. It is or was also involved in several projects in the INTERREG Greater Region programme areas and Upper Rhine as a co-financing or strategic partner. Across Europe, the university is involved in the Horizon 2020 funding programme with the project « Biomat: An Open Innovation Test Bed for Nano-Enabled Bio-Based PUR Foams and Composites H2020-NMBP ». A European consortium of about 20 partners is acting here with Portugal as coordinator. In addition, there are of course DAAD funding and ERASMUS programs. Cross-border contacts naturally exist throughout the university, not only in project networks but also, and above all, on a personal level.
Which thematic priorities can be identified in the area of cross-border projects in the Greater Region and Upper Rhine?
The fields of action in the projects that are currently running or have just been completed concentrate roughly on the expansion of networking structures. There is thus a focus, through the networking in the field of Knowledge and Technology Transfer (KTT) promoted within the framework of KTUR, on the cross-border projects focus on increasing student mobility (MobiPro.GR) and the promotion of employability through cross-border projects with companies. The meta-cluster GREATER GREEN operates in the field of environmental technology. Its target groups are again networks from Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Lorraine, Luxembourg and Wallonia.
Regarding cross-border projects, do you see specific challenges in project initiation, project implementation or simply in the daily work?
For all those involved in cross-border projects, an increased organisational effort must be taken into account: in addition to various annual processes and calendars, which quickly prove to be an important factor, especially in student projects, the respective grown structures and prescribed procedures must be looked at as a challenge. In addition, there are intercultural differences and of course the language barriers. Language skills are primarily an obstacle at the student level, since there is often simply not enough time for further training. At other levels, it is less of this challenge – a language can be learned, especially in long-term relationships, although a certain amount of extra work is certainly required, especially for legally relevant documents. As a matter of fact, a country-specific setting of priorities in R&D or the preferential treatment of national companies or business start-ups can sometimes become relevant in everyday project work. As far as intercultural differences are concerned, we happened to be very successful with the project MobiPro.GR, for example, in offering seminars on intercultural business communication for a total of over 300 students in Germany, France and Belgium.
In your opinion, what benefits are emerging and motivate people to « look beyond the border »?
Bearing responsibility, living networking and diversity, being a source of inspiration. An important impetus for the university, which sees itself as a regional university ¬ with a broad regional concept that extends as far as the Greater Region and the Upper Rhine area ¬, is its contribution to securing skilled labour: counteracting labour shortages, making it easier to find skills, mobility and flexibility and thus increasing employability. This is why the focus is long-term oriented, not on initiatives completed within a few years. “Thinking outside of the box” is becoming increasingly important in a highly globalised world, especially when it comes to multi- and transdisciplinary research questions.
What is on the horizon in the near future?
The Upper-Rhine Artificial Intelligence Symposium is scheduled for October 27 2021. The event is organised by TriRhenaTech-Alliance and will be hosted at the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences in 2021. We are looking forward to being involved here, especially with the support of the « Open Digitalisation Alliance Palatinate ». The aim of the joint project « Open Digitalisation Alliance Palatinate » coordinated by the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences, in which the Technical University of Kaiserslautern and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM are also participating, is to foster the transfer or the exchange of knowledge, ideas and technology between the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences , its partners, companies and society. Another aim is to help shape the digital transformation in an interdisciplinary manner for subject areas of high economic and social relevance and to create a distinctive culture of innovation.
What would you like to see in the field of cross-border cooperation?
Curiosity, open-mindedness and the willingness to always keep an eye on the overall added value. This outweighs by far possible obstacles and increases organisational effort.
Many thanks for the interview.
Author: Dr. Kathrin Jörg, Copyright Pictures: Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences.