Establishing FIT FORTHEM as the R&I pillar of the FORTHEM Alliance

Joint research and innovation strategies of FORTHEM match the ambition of its educational and social dimensions / Final FIT FORTHEM project meeting and conference in Riga, Latvia

3 November 2023


The EU's Horizon 2020 "Science with and for Society" project FIT FORTHEM – short for "Fostering Institutional Transformation of R&I Policies in European Universities" – is nearing the end of its funding period. The three-year collaboration of seven FORTHEM Alliance universities initiated in January 2021 received EUR 2 million to develop joint strategies for the fields of research and innovation. The findings and results of the FIT FORTHEM project will now benefit the FORTHEM research mission.

Founded in 2019, FORTHEM is one of now 50 European University Alliances established by the European Commission through several calls to test various models of transnational academic collaboration. The FORTHEM Alliance includes the University of Burgundy (UB) in France, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany, the University of Jyväskylä (JYU) in Finland, the University of Opole (UO) in Poland, the University of Palermo (UNIPA) in Italy, the University of Latvia (UL) in Riga and the University of València (UVEG) in Spain. Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu in Romania and the University of Agder in Norway joined FORTHEM in late 2022.

Coordinated by Mainz University, the FIT FORTHEM project ambitiously mapped out a shared research agenda and proposed various infrastructure sharing and open science policies for all FORTHEM partners. To effectively implement its transformational modules, the project collected good practices and developed action plans for co-creation together with external stakeholders, for academic entrepreneurship, for career support services for early stage researchers as well as professionalisation of R&I services.

As project coordinator and JGU's Vice President for Research Professor Stefan Müller-Stach takes stock: “We have achieved a great deal over the past three years and now there is a solid basis for future FORTHEM cooperation in the field of R&I. Well-grounded and evidence-based action plans are in place in key areas, such as Open Science, Co-Creation or Entrepreneurship, which now can be integrated in FORTHEM's research mission, but also in other activities of the alliance. The framework is set for launching more and more joint research projects within FORTHEM. Having mapped our common strongholds in research, it’s now time to bring our research communities closer together, to build on the rich and complementary scholarly expertise of our universities, to identify common research topics – and thus to enhance the performance of each individual institution as well as the alliance as such.”

Showcasing the results in five areas of intervention

The FIT FORTHEM partners will get together for a final project meeting and conference at the University of Latvia in Riga from November 7th to November 9th, 2023. Here, the FIT FORTHEM team will conclude their work done in the five areas of intervention – internationalisation of research, open science, co-creation with external stakeholders, science communication and human capital – and present landmark results that the FORTHEM partners can adapt and expand on in the future.

One highlight will be the launch of the new FIT FORTHEM Digital Platform that allows researchers and project managers to search for partners and gives them virtual access to selected resources, including rare and unique cultural heritage items at FORTHEM partner universities. The platform is easily navigable as well as flexible enough to accommodate new research strongholds and internationalised research groups ready to collaborate on projects addressing the five EU Missions in Horizon Europe and other societal challenges.

Other FIT FORTHEM results aiming at bringing together actors from science, business, administration and civil society according to the Quadruple Helix Innovation concept will also be showcased. For example, FIT FORTHEM analyses used to develop a strategic approach to non-academic stakeholders within the Regional Innovation System will be presented to the new FORTHEM-wide structure – the Research and Innovation Services and Policy Office. The office will continue to support FORTHEM academics in partner matchmaking, networking, application writing, upscaling R&I impact and the transfer of knowledge to interested social actors.

Dr. Nicole Birkle, Managing Coordinator of the FIT FORTHEM project at Mainz University and General Secretary of the FORTHEM Alliance, explains: “The FORTHEM Alliance allows us to continue from the point where FIT FORTHEM now ends. This is a decisive advantage. And we will not stop here. We are going to work on a strategic concept for further third-party funding applications that will allow us to interlink the missions of the FORTHEM Alliance more effectively, identify cross-cutting issues in research and education and thus strengthen the competitiveness and attractiveness of our alliance.”

Fostering institutional transformation

The FIT FORTHEM team will use the final project meeting and conference in Riga to reflect on the scope and scale of institutional transformation that has been enabled since 2021 by project actions at each beneficiary organisation and on how this may be carried on by the new partners in the FORTHEM Alliance. Rectors and presidents involved in research and innovation as well as members of External and Internal Advisory Boards, FORTHEM policy operatives and mission board managers will gather to discuss the institutional implications of specific transformational modules and assess the game-changing potential of Horizon coordination and support actions such as FIT FORTHEM.

Moreover, the nine FORTHEM partners will discuss the further alignment of R&I priorities regarding funding strategies as well as career and training support for early stage researchers – with the ultimate goal of catalysing new joint R&I projects in the future. "Many supporting actions that allow FORTHEM partners to integrate better into a real alliance are already part of the 2022-2026 rollout phase of FORTHEM, especially in its Research, Innovation and Transfer Mission, co-led by the universities of Opole, Mainz and Sibiu", said Dr. Agnese Rusakova, FORTHEM Policy officer.