HEInnovate webinar 7 - Social and sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation - Discussion paper

New mobilities of learning, research, and innovation: How can UBC 2021-2027 support sustainable social innovation?

Introduction and Context

For more than 10 years now, the European Commission has been supporting European University-Business Forums, and a regular programme of thematic UB Forums taking place in the Member States.[2] This European platform has brought together higher education (HE) institutions (HEIs), companies, business associations, civil society actors and policymakers at urban, rural, regional, national and international level to network as well as exchange knowledge, ideas and good practices in the field of UBC. 

We are now at a major transition point, both in the context of how UBC activities are arranged, and in the unprecedented social and economic changes that face the European Union and its Member States as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have major impacts across business sectors and in terms of massive restrictions on the mobilities which we experienced prior to the pandemic.

Face-to-face interaction and fluid mobility have underpinned the UBC activities in the past. UB Forums were arranged across Member States, the interaction between higher education and business was built very much on the concept of knowledge sharing (the Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliances for example) and for students and researchers there was a strong emphasis on direct interaction through mobility programmes between HE and businesses. 

At present, however, the past ‘normal’ is not possible. Remote teaching at universities is very much the norm, while social distancing and travel restrictions mean we need to interact more online such as via these webinars. However, UBC must be maintained to first find innovative and creative ways to respond to the impacts on business – UBC must help the economy and society to renew, rebuild, and refresh. Second, UBC must address the impacts on society, so that the Commission’s strategic priorities can be delivered. We have covered these issues in more detail in our reflection paper attached. 

In that context, this webinar addresses some of the key issues we discussed in our reflection paper:

  • UBC to support lifelong learning in a digital world: in particular, exploring the opportunities and threats of automation and AI for education, and how to support lifelong learning for graduates and the workforce, in particular with respect to digital skills and entrepreneurial skills.
  • UBC to support inclusion and equality in all its senses: in particular, exploring the potential of scaling up and valorising the impact of social innovation in a context of ageing, migration and the need to protect and further develop our European values of citizenship, diversity and equality. 
  • UBC to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals: in particular, exploring how to support HEIs and citizens to develop their innovative and entrepreneurial capacity, and to take on a more active role in protecting the environment (food, waste, energy, etc.) and other major global challenges.

Webinar Themes 

The webinar invites you to contribute to a Europe-wide forum for debate and exchanges of ideas on the future of the UBC network in the light of the strategic priorities[3] of the new Commission and the new mobilities of learning, research, and innovation that have emerged as a result of the pandemic. The two over-arching questions to consider are:

  • In light of the ongoing pandemic, and to further develop UBC activities at the EU level, what can be the new mobilities of learning, research, and innovation that facilitate UBC?
  • In light of the Commission’s political priorities, how can UBC over the coming years support sustainable social innovation, so that UBC not only develops business activities, but does it in ways that support the Green Deal[4], Digital Strategy[5], Digital Education Action Plan[6], and the  European Research Area[7], to ensure social inclusion, democratic participation, and EU competitiveness?

Within these two overarching questions, there is a set of five more specific questions which we invite you to reflect on in order to help us shape the political agenda and format of the future UBC network.

1. Unlocking private investment

In the coming years, targeted investments in the twin green and digital transitions will be made under the ‘Next Generation EU’[8]programme in order to support Member States to draw lessons from the crisis and become more resilient.[9] It has three pillars, of which a key one for UBC is “Pillar 2: Kick-starting the economy and helping private investment”. In this context, it would be interesting to reflect on the following question during the webinar:

  • How can UBC contribute to strengthening the role of HEIs as territorial hubs for innovation and resilience, which are therefore a strategic asset to contribute to the successful implementation of the COVID-19 recovery plan at EU, national and regional level?

2. Making the most of digital skills in cutting-edge technologies. 

An important focus of UBC to date has been on universities providing the supply of graduates with advanced digital skills to be able to respond to the societal changes arising from cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cybersecurity and high-performance computing. Another question for reflection during the webinar is therefore:

  • In the context of ‘virtual’ mobility and need to advanced digital skills, how can HEIs and businesses work together to help graduates and the workforce to become lifelong learners and continuously improve their (digital) skills in light of developments in the fields of AI and cybersecurity?

3. Social innovation

Furthermore, a recurring message from the UB Forums has been that HEIs need to become more inclusive. While HEIs can provide more and better options for access and support to a more diverse student population, UBC can contribute to greater ‘reaching out’, i.e. collaborating with local government, businesses and NGOs to help tackle key societal challenges related to migration, discrimination, social inequalities. From the very the beginning of the pandemic, it was predicted that the most vulnerable in society would be the ones most heavily affected by the crisis and would further strengthen already soaring inequalities. The pandemic has made it even more urgent than ever for UBC to contribute to social innovation and inclusion. It will therefore also be important for us to reflect on:

  • The focus on virtual mobility can be an inclusive process, since physical mobility often prevented some people from travelling to events: for example, physical disability, lack of finance. How can virtual mobilities be harnessed to provide greater opportunities for UBC for all?

4. Delivering on the United Nationals (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Delivering on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a top priority for the new Commission. The SDGs are therefore embedded in the mission letters of some Commissioners, with the ‘Green Deal’ as the Commission’s flagship initiative. At individual level, all citizens need some level of entrepreneurial, social and civic skills in order to develop the environmental awareness and local community initiatives needed in order to protect our planet. A boost for skills for the green economy is therefore needed, with more investments in education and training to increase the number of professionals in this field.

At institutional and system level, stronger cooperation is needed. In our paper from February 2020 (attached) we mentioned climate change and the emergence of new digital technologies as potential causes of such future shocks, but instead it was a pandemic which – within the space of a couple of weeks – completely disrupted our systems, institutions and individual way of living.

  • What should be the priority actions for UBC in building sustainable and resilient innovation ecosystems at local, regional, and EU levels? 

5. The future format of UBC

Finally, we invite you to reflect on how we further develop our activities for the UBC network:

  • What should be the shape and structure of the UBC programme of activities, taking into account the turbulent socio-political context post COVID-19?
  • What are the themes, challenges, and opportunities you recommend we focus on during future UBC events?




[1] For more information and registration on upcoming webinars, please visit https://heinnovate.eu/en/news/join-heinnovate-webinar-series

[2] Since 2008, eight European UB Forums (the last European UB Forum was in October 2019) and 23 thematic UB Forums have taken place: the most recent event took place in Lisbon (Portugal) in February 2019. See also: https://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/innovation-in-education/university-business-cooperation_en

[3] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024_en

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en

[5] https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/content/european-digital-strategy

[6] https://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/digital-education-action-plan_en

[7] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/research_and_innovation/strategy_on_research_and_innovation/documents/ec_com-2020-628.pdfand https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/new-european-research-area_en

[8] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/eu-recovery-plan/

[9] See https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/health/coronavirus-response/recovery-plan-europe/pillars-next-generatin-eu_en

  • Webinar summary
Submitted by:
Zsuzsa Javorka
Submitted on:
05 Nov 2020
Related event date:
05 Nov 2020