May 20, 2004

Cross-border co-operation has key role in “mobilising companies” to tackle international markets, Scandinavian expert tells Cavan conference

Press Release 20 May 2004

A new cross-border university and science network between Denmark and Sweden has played a key role in “mobilising companies” to tackle international markets, a North/South higher education conference organised by the Centre for Cross Border Studies has heard.

He hoped universities and business in Ireland, North and South, could learn from the experience of the Scandinavian bodies.

Öresund University, founded in 1998, brings together 14 universities from Copenhagen, the Danish capital, Malmö in southern Sweden and surrounding areas. Out of this came the Öresund Science Region, which links a number of ‘platforms’ for university-industry co-operation in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, food and the environment. More recently new ‘platforms’ have been formed in nanoscience, design, logistics and culture.

Both the university and science networks were consequences of the building of a 16 kilometre road and rail bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmö across the Öresund sea passage between Denmark and Sweden which opened in 2000.

The current chairperson of Öresund University, Copenhagen University rector Professor Linda Nielsen, told the conference that the number of students crossing the Danish-Swedish border to attend other universities in the network had grown by at least 50 times since its foundation.

“We have created strong links and a lot of goodwill with the business and industry community. We are seen as a major asset when it comes to marketing the region internationally. In short, we have become what we intended: an important regional actor, an engine for the economic development of the region, and Europe’s foremost example of cross-border university co-operation.”

Mr Streijffert said in the past six years Öresund University had created a cross-border organisation encompassing the regional authorities in the two countries, the 14 universities, seven university-industry ‘platforms’, and around 3,000 companies.

The EU – through its cross-border INTERREG programme – is the Öresund University network’s biggest funder, but it also receives money from local and regional authorities, technology transfer companies and the participating universities. He said the Öresund model was now being copied in many regions in northern Europe. Its “lean and flexible” organisational model was seen as particularly valuable.

The conference also heard from a representative of the European Confederation of Upper Rhine Universities (EUCOR), which brings together seven universities in eastern France, south-western Germany and northern Switzerland. Dr Beat Münch, from the University of Basel, warned that networking – especially cross-border networking – between universities must be “an integral part of a university’s core strategies. If it is only considered as an add-on value, it generally fails and will not have a long-lasting effect.”

If cross-border co-operation is not taken into account by national governments’ higher education policies, there will be “very few incentives for research and teaching staff to commit time and effort to networking activities.”

The conference, was opened by the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Ms Sile de Valera TD, and the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland, Mr Will Haire.

Ms de Valera noted that the theme of the conference was particularly apposite in the context of Ireland’s presidency of the European Union. She went on: “We know that to achieve the aims of the Lisbon Agenda, we must establish knowledge networks, starting with connections between higher education institutions, further connections across borders and between the State and industry. Crucial to the realisation of these aims is the communication of ideas, experiences and solutions to enable us to address common problems and overcome common obstacles.”

Mr Haire said: “The experience and knowledge that are being shared at this conference are among the best practice in European terms and provide a valuable learning experience for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This conference will also allow an excellent opportunity to build strong university-industry links that will bring mutual benefits to all.”

The conference was also addressed by the chairman of Universities Ireland and vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster, Professor Gerry McKenna, and the chairman of the Council of Directors of Institutes of Technology and director of Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Mr Paul Hannigan.

The conference – entitled ‘Cross-Border Higher Education Co-operation in Ireland and Europe’ – was organised on behalf of the Department of Education and Science (Dublin) and the Department for Employment and Learning (Belfast) by the Centre for Cross Border Studies. It is the fourth such North/South higher education conference organised for the two Departments in the past two years.

Further information from:

Andy Pollak, Director, Centre for Cross Border Studies, and Secretary, Universities Ireland
Tel. 028-3751-1550 Fax 028-3751-1721
[048 from the Republic of Ireland]
Mobile: 0771-5042122
[0044-771-5042122 from the Republic of Ireland]

See the conference page.