Aarhus University Seal

Education at all scales is the key to the grand challenges

Some wise people have said that "Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world". The Erasmus+ program, an initiative of the European Union, encompasses education, training, youth, and sports.

This program is structured around three key actions, the first of which is the most famous among undergraduate and graduate students for the unique combination of “learning and partying” at universities in Europe (Key Action 1: Learning Mobility of Individuals). The other two actions of Erasmus+ tackle partnerships and capacity building (Key Action 2: Cooperation among organisations and institutions) and policy cooperation at European Union level (Key action 3: Support to policy development and cooperation).

Starting from late 2023/early 2024 and for the next three years, the Department of Agroecology is part of two unique Erasmus+ Key Action 2 projects. The “mastErs COurse on smart sustainability soLUTIONs” (ECOLUTION) and “Asian Clusters in Agriculture and Climate Change” (ALIGNING). 

ECOLUTION is a “Partnerships for cooperation” project aiming to strengthen the innovation capacity of Europe by boosting innovation through cooperation and flow of knowledge among higher education, vocational education and training (both initial and continuous), with a prospect for a broader socio-economic environment, including research. ECOLUTION will develop advanced, interactive and certified MSc courses related to industrial applications that will train individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to work in the rising “Smart Environmental Sustainability” sector.

“We define “Smart Environmental Sustainability” as context(s) involving the global advancements in the (Extended) Internet of Things (IoT/XIoT6), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented & Virtual reality (AR/VR), 5G networking, Digital Twin, Robotics & Automation, Autonomous Vehicles and Drones”, says Davide Cammarano from the Department of Agroecology involved in the project, and adds that the protrusion differs stunningly between scientific disciplines and economic sectors. 

Researcher Kiril Manevski also from the department involved in the project agrees and adds:

“The proposed developed curricula will work not only as a state-of-the-art educational MSc tool on “Smart Environmental Sustainability Technologies” but will also provide course accreditation and ECTS transfers at European level and is expected to become an affordable and reconfigurable reference platform solution to address the need for monitoring. We at the department coordinate several work packages and are responsible for the design of the syllabus of the courses we already are good at, including hydro-climatic variability and real-time monitoring, circular (bio)economy, digital tools in agricultural production and digital soil mapping and management. Also, maybe the most important for us here is that many courses are particularly relevant for the new educational program on food systems to be deployed in autumn and the syllabuses can be used either directly or as a matrix to tailor our specific needs.”

Assistant professor Eusun Han participates in the project and identifies from the department end a perfect teaching, networking and collaboration opportunity:

“We can also implement "mock-debate" sessions where groups of students try to convince each other on sensitive topics around agroecology, for instance sustainable vs. conventional ways of farming, based on scientific facts. I often observe very heated and motivated 1 hour scientific combat among students, after which they become more objective on their original positions. I believe ECOLUTION is a perfect educational platform extending this concept of motivational teaching/learning”.  

The ECOLUTION consortium will evaluate the syllabus yearly, even beyond the funding period, and gradually update it with the latest technological developments as they arise from business needs and research outcomes. The consortium consists of partners residing all over Europe in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain and involves four universities, including the coordinator- Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra, the International Hellenic University, the Chez University of Life Sciences, and of course, Aarhus University. In addition, one research center, seven SMEs, and one chamber of commerce joined us to create this attractive MSc program

 Et billede, der indeholder indendørs, tøj, mur, skrivebord Automatisk genereret beskrivelseEt billede, der indeholder tøj, indendørs, menneske, person Automatisk genereret beskrivelse

Hybrid (physical-online) kick-off meeting of the ECOLUTION Erasmus+ project on 20-21 March 2024 at the School of Agronomy, University of Coimbra, Portugal.

On the other side of the world in the Far East, another Erasmus+ Key Action 2 project commenced as “Capacity Building in Higher Education” with the overall aim to boost international cooperation beyond Europe through multilateral partnerships between universities and organisations active in the field of higher education. The project “Asian Clusters in Agriculture and Climate Change” (ALIGNING) started in December 2023 with a main aim to promote agricultural innovation in the partner countries by increasing, first, the innovation capacity of Asian universities, and, second, by providing the other stakeholders (industry, policy makers and society) avenues for solutions for a more sustainable and climate-resilient business growth.

The biophysical principles of climate change require all countries in the world to have comparable views, and this requires capacity building at multiple levels, including the universities. Cambodia and Bangladesh, as much of Southeast Asia, both share significant economic and population growth over the past decades, with an increasing need for agribusiness including local contexts and partnerships borne by economic diplomacy with a view including the EU’s priorities of Green deal, Digital transformation and Sustainable growth and jobs. However, Cambodia and Bangladesh are also some of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of global warming and weather variability- extreme weather events especially involving droughts and floods. ALIGNING will therefore improve the match between the curricula of the universities and the human capital needs of businesses in a joint effort, through a novel, peer-centered and market relevant curricula in agriculture business challenges and opportunities amid climate change in the Asian context.

“This is a very challenging task surely not to be fully solved within the project lifetime of only three years, but it will definitely initiate strong institutional strategies through the establishment of “innovation clusters” as we call them back in Europe, to provide the Asian partners defining among other their governance rules, the pedagogical and the digital approaches for new training programs, and further capacity building activities and services that will take place under the auspices of the clusters”, says researcher Kiril Manevski from the Department of Agroecology and adds:

“Projects like ALIGNING are very important learning curves for us as well, because we also get to understand how the climate system affects different stakeholders involved in the agricultural value chains  elsewhere and what scientific implications that has for Europe, including Denmark.

Assistant professor Morten Graversgaard, also from the Department of Agroecology who is part of the project adds:

“Alongside five fully operational innovative clusters in agriculture and climate change we will set in the Asian universities (three in Cambodia and two in Bangladesh), the main capacity building tools for approaching this aim include methodology for the development of the online training programs relating to climate change and food security, climate adaptation and mitigation in agriculture, agribusiness management, climate finance available, online professional program in the areas of agribusiness management and climate smart agriculture, all of which incorporate blended learning academic courses available in Khmer and Bengali, as well as an active “Community of Practice”.

“The ALIGNING consortium has conducted a preliminary needs analysis regarding agribusiness skills in demand at a proposal stage, and now at project start we are verifying this need to align the specific clusters objectives through methodical survey of an extensive number of stakeholders  including the universities and the ministries of education and of economy in Cambodia and Bangladesh to harvest the professional views and opinions of the experts. The main aim is to ensure fit-for-purpose, i.e., objective, feasible and sustainable improvement of the curricula tangling the agribusiness sector through awareness and implementation of multi-stakeholder processes, allowing these stakeholders to come onboard and to strengthen green business opportunities, innovation and research. This approach will also provide support to the Asian universities becoming even more interconnected, innovative, inclusive and digital. The results will be published in a public report and we might even draft a scientific paper based on the survey results”, says Kiril Manevski. 

Coordinated by the University of Heng Samrin Thbongkhmum (UHST) in Cambodia, ALIGNING also involves the faculties related to agriculture of several universities, including the National University of Battambang (NUBB), National University of Management (NUM) in Cambodia, and Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) and Sylhet Agricultural University (SAU) in Bangladesh, as well as the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Greece-based research innovation and development company ReadLab.