2011-2021: Generational shift - The BUP 2.0

Text by Madeleine Granvik

(Director of the BUP 2017 - ongoing)

Sooner or later, it happens in all organisations, and The Baltic University Programme is no exception: the time for a critical mass of colleagues engaged in the Programme to begin their retirement years. For us, this generational shift started around 2015 and led to several changes regarding organisation and management. New academic initiatives took place. During this transitional period, our priority was first to develop the cooperation within the BUP, to focus on the Participating Universities, and to have functional National Centres, Secretariats, and to employ new staff. To tweak the old and adopt new routines and policies.

Heading into a new period

The BUP Board decided at the end of 2015 to conduct a survey to find out what opinions and ideas colleagues in the BUP had for the future of the Programme. The ambition was to have an open, transparent, and inclusive working process. Thanks to both the survey, and to other meetings and conferences, we received a valuable input that informed our future strategy. During 2016 the Programme celebrated 25 years of cooperation, and left its status as a project to become a permanent institution. Bilateral contracts between the BUP and universities were signed at the level of Rectors, and the participating institutions started to contribute with an annual fee. Around 60 universities joined that year.

At this time, the BUP presidency was introduced as a new organisational feature. Holding a BUP Presidency, is done by every BUP National Centre during a six months period. The National Centre give its own signature shape to BUP events, enriching the network with new ideas and practices, while itself gaining more visibility. The BUP National Centres also went through a process of renewal and formalisation, and the Programme had the pleasure of welcoming six new Centre Directors. The role and responsibilities of BUP National Centres were strengthened and evolved.

Group photo of Centre Directors' meeting in Gdansk, Poland
Group photo of Centre Directors' meeting in Gdansk, Poland

In spring 2018, the BUP Research and Publication Office (BUPRaP) was established at the Associated Secretariat at Hamburg University of Applied Science. It gathers and makes available information on open calls for funding programmes, both from the European Union (e.g., Horizon 2020, ERASMUS+, Europe-AID, INTERREG, etc.) and from other grant-awarding bodies. The Office also coordinates publications related to education for sustainable development, environment, sustainable development, and climate change in scientific journals.

In this time period, there were discussions concerning the work of the BUP in relation to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals. It was decided that the Programme should give the goals even more attention and to state clearly that we promote and encourage inter-, multi- and transdisciplinary co-operations where different academic disciplines and perspectives on sustainable development meet. The BUP is strongly convinced that universities play a central role in the development of societies through education of the young generation and by conducting relevant research contributing to sustainability. In connection to the SDGs, the BUP also defined and adopted 10 focus areas, the 10 BUP Themes:

  • Climate Change,
  • Renewable Energy,
  • Sustainable Societies,
  • Sustainable Water Resources,
  • Urban-Rural development,
  • Sustainable Mobility,
  • Circular Economy,
  • Sustainable Tourism,
  • Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and
  • Sustainable Food Systems

Focus on researchers

University teachers, students and researchers have been the primary target groups since the start of the BUP. Most attention during the first 15 years was, however, devoted to developing courses and course material. In the recent years, researchers have been given more attention and various forms of support.

One type of support is the BUP Research Notes Letter, first published for the BUP Rectors’ Conference in 2018. The Research Notes Letter features contributions from researchers who are based at Participating Universities across the Programme. Publishing helps the authors achieve a greater impact with their research findings. It also represents a space where experts from the region inform and learn from one another, as well as learn about one another.

Following my vision for the BUP, as well as per suggestion of a Rectors’ Conference, we organised the first BUP Symposium in 24-25 August 2020. The restrictions linked to Covid-19 put an end to the plans to meet in Visby, and so it was moved online. The symposium attracted over 200 colleagues to contribute with their research to one of the 10 BUP Themes, and stressed both the challenges we face and how efforts within different research fields can contribute to the implementation of sustainability in the Baltic Sea Region. As an outcome of the BUP Symposium 2020, the BUP entered into a cooperation with the scientific journals Sustainability, and the journal Baltic Region. Since there was a significant interest regarding the Symposium and the special issues, the Coordinating Secretariat decided to continue to elaborate this type of academic support and hold the Symposium on an annual basis.

New ways of supporting young scientists

Since 2012, the BUP has offered a training for PhD students once a year, which has been organised by the Associated Secretariat in Łodz and taken place in Rogów, Poland. It is an opportunity for PhD students from all disciplines to meet and discuss sustainable development in an interdisciplinary, international, and regional context. The training includes lectures and workshops, and a chance for students to present their PhD work and consult their PhD projects with international experts acting as mentors.

The PhD training later led to a PhD Supervisor Collegium to be established. The BUP Supervisor Collegium allow for mentorships to take place during extended time periods and a more formalised supervision. It is an opportunity for PhD students to get a co-supervisor from another university in the Baltic Sea Region, and, at the same time, an opportunity for researchers to take on the co-supervisor role. Through meetings and seminars for PhD students and the supervisors, the participants can share knowledge and experience. Seniors in the collegium make up a possible pool of opponents and members of evaluation committees for PhD students´ defense. 

To support talented young scholars, the BUP Board decided in 2013 to introduce a PhD Award. The idea is to promote novelty research with an interdisciplinary approach, and relevant in a sustainable development perspective in a Baltic Sea Region context. It would find its first laureates in 2014. Since then, the distinction has been given every year to young researchers who successfully competed with their finished PhD projects. So far, ten promising PhD holders have received the prize.

Photo of Matilda Marshall
Photo of PhD Award winner Matilda Marshall presenting her research. Photo by Krzysztof Ciesielski

As internationalisation in practice is one of the main long-term goals of the Programme, young scholars, PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows have since 2017 been able to apply and compete for Mobility Research Grants. The grant enables the winner to be a guest researcher for a certain time period at a university in the Baltic Sea Region: The Mobility Grant gives the winners a chance to broaden, or establish, their own research network. There have been, thus far, three original and innovative projects that the BUP supported in this way.

Twice as many events for students

The Programme has for many years been hosting a set of regularly organised student activities, such as student conferences, SAIL for students, and summer courses. The number of student activities has in general increased since 2016 and doubled in 2019. To name at least one of them, BUP students got a chance to embark, for the first time, on a Sea Yawl Voyage. This led them to Polessk, Russia, from which they sailed in the Curonian lagoon. Like SAIL, the enterprise is designed to help students improve their cooperation and other soft skills, learn new practical skills hands-on, and boost their self-confidence while deepening their knowledge of sustainable development in the Region.

  • Introduction to BUP students conference

Students have been also becoming gradually more involved in the organisation of the Programme itself. Since 2019, the BUP Student Parliament has convened on a regular basis and clear statues were developed for its organisation. There is also a brand-new project aimed at increasing student involvement that we launched in early 2021: BUP Student Ambassadors Programme. The ambition is to have Student Ambassadors at each Participating University. The scope of the proposed activities for Ambassadors includes promoting the BUP at their home university, assisting the BUP National Centre in the given country, assist in a small (or a bigger) data collection/research project, and more. We would like to create a network consisting of active and enthusiastic students, who will support the Programme and “recruit” new students for courses, conferences, and other events.

Teachers in the Programme

Different forms of training for teachers have been organised on a regular basis. To highlight some of the things that have been achieved the past years, there are two projects that have been running in the area of Education for Sustainable Development, EduBalt and EduBUP. They are both financed by the Swedish Institute and were realised by the total of around 100 colleagues from nine countries. At the same time, the BUP Associated Secretariat in Finland has been running the course Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education for teachers, which takes place on an annual basis. The focus of both the course and the projects has been the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in learning methods in Higher Education as well as promoting inter-disciplinarity to help teachers develop, experiment with, and practise teaching methods for ESD. The participants learned how to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals into their own teaching, courses, and study programmes. These activities are part of the BUP lifelong learning education.

Apart from these activities, there has also been SAIL for Teachers. Like students, teachers have had an opportunity to co-operate, network, gain new skills, and expand their knowledge out on the Baltic Sea. The attention has also been paid to teaching materials/courses as the core support for the teachers’ work. After looking at how the current BUP course materials are being used and investigating the general interest in and the need for new course materials, it has been concluded that new materials are needed in the form of modules, available online, or, alternatively, MOOC courses. The development of modules has been initiated by the Climate Change project coordinated by the BUP Coordinating Secretariat as well as the German group of colleagues. Thus, several course modules are under progress. The work on modules/MOOC courses will also be continued during the next strategic period.

Education, digitalisation and new modules

In general, the BUP strives to offer new courses and modules as well as new forms of teaching. The time has come to digitalise the BUP education. We have been especially reminded of the importance of making materials available in digital form by the restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are currently four joined projects running that focus on digitalisation.

The E-Tutor project, brings students in and offers them both an opportunity to acquire a new skill set, as well as generate extra income by working for BUP assisting in the digitalisation of the new modules. The Baltic Sea Region Climate Change Curriculum has the goal to develop 15 modules for a course on climate change as relevant to the Baltic Sea Region. Out from this material is the 10-credit distance course Climate Change in The Baltic Sea Region - An Inter disciplinary approach, to be developed. It will be hosted by Uppsala University, in cooperation with fourteen other Participating Universities. Another planned outcome is the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) focused on the same topics and targeted at professionals, i.e., university teachers. Other work in progress is the project Digital at home that will result in course modules in the area of social science and humanity the “Peoples´ of the Baltic”, and as well the ongoing work at Participating universities in Germany working with five different modules covering both nature and social science related to sustainable development in the BSR.

Projects for Participating Universities

workshop during project Internationalization in Practice
Workshop during BUP project Internationalization in

The BUP has also worked on strengthening the cooperation with Participating Universities as a whole. The project Internationalisation in Practice improved our ties with university international offices and university leaderships, through specific projects targeted at Participating Universities. In 2019, the Coordinating Secretariat started to build a network of people working at international offices at Participating Universities. This work has been developed into a co-operation among 10 universities focused on internationalisation at each respective university. The BUP see this group as important in fostering cooperation between the universities at different levels and we will continue to work with this group of colleagues in the near future.

Another project underway that supports universities is: Implementing Sustainability at Universities (started 2021). It includes a webinar series, a survey, and an incentivisation of Student Ambassadors to investigate the status quo at their home university. The aim is to support universities in adopting sustainable practices in the areas of teaching, research, and campus management.

BUP Strategy 2021-2025

As the previous Strategy 2017-2020 was about to come to an end, reporting and reflecting as well as the planning for a new period 2021-2025 was starting fall 2020. In short, the main focus of the work in 2017-2018 was on organisation, management, economy and communication. In 2019 student activities were on the agenda, 2020 the focus was on researchers. In the new Strategy 2021-2025, we will continue to develop the work we have started the latest years. However, the Action Plan for 2021 will have the main focus on teachers and students, by developing new course modules and even some full courses, to be digitalised for possible online education.

Networking, technology and the Covid 19 pandemic

Technology has brought us a number of new tools and platforms that facilitate the networking of students, university teachers, and researchers. In recent years, the BUP’s communication and outreach has become more planned, clear and effective. As a result, the BUP has a growing number of followers and subscribers on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and YouTube. All communication efforts contribute to maintaining and improving the lively network of BUP colleagues, within each of the 10 Themes as well as in general.

A factor that forced us to learn and use new technology is the Covid-19 pandemic. The year of restrictions influenced our everyday lives as well as the work within the BUP. The need to move an increasing number of activities online represented a kind of “paradigm shift” in the BUP, with the positive effects of being more inclusive, and being able to give more colleagues the opportunity to attend activities.

Print screen from Space Bridge 2.0 from Belarus
Print screen from Space Bridge 2.0 from Belarus

The intensive use of technology is also a way to revisit our past, of working online and remotely across long distances. In the 1990s the BUP connected members of academia through satellite seminars. Now we are again interconnecting the teachers, researchers, and students of the Baltic Sea Region with the help of technology, and it shows that we were on the right track 30 years ago, and still are.

The BUP 3.0

The Baltic University programme – one of the Biggest University Programme in the World currently with 93 partner Universities! Now entering a new period, 2021 starts with Celebrating BUP´s 30th anniversary! And there is undoubtedly more to say about these past years of the Programme, and even more to predict and wish for future. I am convinced, that by now entering a new period 2021-2025 - full of energy and engagement - the BUP is ready for the future! As a result of passion for internationalisation and regional co-operations, teaching, research and innovations, and a hard work of hundreds of enthusiastic colleagues from the Participating Universities and its administrative and strategy-shaping bodies, the BUP is in good hands. Together we learn from each other. By communicating, cooperating and contributing to the Programme with the aim to support the development of the Baltic Sea Region. Universities play a central role in the development of our societies, through education of the young generation, development of up-to-date knowledge, and being a resource for society in applying such knowledge. Thus, the purpose of the Programme has been, and will continue to be, promoting and supporting universities and corresponding institutions in the development of the Baltic Sea region with a focus on sustainable development and education for sustainable development, by promoting inter- multi- and trans disciplinary co-operations.

About the author

Associate Professor Madeleine Granvik, Dr.

Madeleine Granvik has been active in the BUP since her days as a student. She took on the role as director, while she was Assistant Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, focusing on planning for sustainable development and management of urban-rural interactions, with focus on Food Planning. She is a renowned author of many scientific publications, as well as editor. Today, she combines the BUP directorship with being an Associate Professor at Uppsala University, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development. 

Photo of Madeleine Granvik
Last modified: 2021-04-26