social sciences

Estonian university leads an international innovation project

How best to educate and prepare graduates for the fresh challenges of the 21st century? Photo credit: Renee Altrov.

What should be taught in universities in the future and how to ensure that diverse and wide-ranging societal challenges are met? Researchers from 40 countries are starting to study these topics in the SHIINE project. Katri-Liis Reimann, Associate Professor at Tallinn University and manager of the project, spoke about the objectives of the undertaking.

This is the second COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) network project led by Tallinn University and an Estonian researcher in general. What is the purpose of the “Multi-disciplinary Innovation for Social Change” project?

It is a multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral innovation for societal change. The development of social enterprises in the educational landscape has revealed that students need complex skills to cope with future issues and how differently they are currently taught across Europe. This project was inspired by our own practical experience of project-based teaching and social entrepreneurship. We want to explore how different universities conduct project-based learning, and how they develop students to cope with the challenges to create social business ideas that address societal and environmental issues. We will include companies, higher education institutions and the public sector in this project, because some of this will also affect policy-making. New solutions offered by students could also reach the public sector.

How does Tallinn University develop social entrepreneurship?

Our Master’s programme for Social Entrepreneurship is very new and the first students will graduate next spring. They have tried to pilot a lot of ideas that could also be put on the market. The landscape is diverse. There are areas for helping at-risk groups, or people with special needs to find employment. In addition, there are ideas based on digital technologies that could contribute to co-creation in education and to the inclusion of at-risk groups. For example, a student from Azerbaijan is trying to help girls who are married early to get an education. This student is creating a platform through which training is provided to these women so that they can do better in the labour market.

There seems to be a lot of demand in the area of social work, and there is a huge number of people in Estonia who need support. How can this need be met?

We have also engaged in other social projects within the framework of the Master Programme for Social Entrepreneurship. One of the ongoing projects is the co-creation of innovative services in Europe. We have organised social hackathons and development days where people with special needs came up with their own ideas. For example, hackathons have helped to bring together support persons and people with special needs. Our role is to support the development of such ideas and to help them come up with a business model. That is also one of the aims of the SHIINE project – communicating innovative methods in the field of social work.

The project will create a virtual public sector innovation laboratory? What is that?

It is a virtual co-creation platform that reflects the societal challenges, such as how best to educate and prepare graduates for the fresh challenges of the 21st century. The platform will include project partners, existing best practices, policy documents and legal frameworks related to societal problems. Therefore, the whole network can be seen: who is dealing with the problem, what happens in this area and the impact of the projects. We want to know what impact we have on students and what impact student projects have on society.

The lead partner of the project is Tallinn University, but who else are involved?

We currently have partners from 40 countries, although I started this project request with just 10 partners. The COST network differs from other projects funded by the European Union in that countries can join on an ongoing basis. It can be extended all over the world, but not all countries are eligible for COST funding.

SHIINE project network
First SHIINE project network meeting in Brussels. Photo credit: Tallinn University.

What is COST? 

COST – The European Cooperation in Science and Technology is a funding organisation for the creation of research networks (projects), called COST Actions. Researchers can create a network – based on their own research interests and ideas – by submitting a proposal to the COST Open Call. The calls are quite competitive – most recently the success rate for eligible proposals was 12 per cent and the leadership role is highly valued.

It is possible to join ongoing Actions, which therefore keep expanding over the funding period of four years. COST Actions are also highly interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder, often involving the private sector, policymakers as well as civil society.

COST funding is dedicated to cover collaboration activities, such as workshops, conferences, working group meetings, training schools, short-term scientific missions, and dissemination and communication activities.

In early December 2019, there were 246 active COST Actions altogether; Estonian researchers participated in 175 of them. See more here.

Written by: Sven Paulus

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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