MyUniversity is a project partially funded, under the ICT Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP) as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, by the European Community. MyUniversity is designed as a trial project that focuses on the unification of European Higher Education and its affect on university stakeholders (i.e. students, teaching and administrative staff) with the aim of creating added value from the use of certain information and communication technologies.
More specifically the project aims at designing, deploying and validating an integrated solution for empowering and involving university members and stakeholders in transparent decision-making allowing the development of appropriate recommendations and action plans, focused on EU higher education.
An advanced technological platform will be used by the universities to create the environment needed for such an interaction. MyUniversity project will equip universities from Bulgaria, Lithuania, Spain, Slovakia and Sweden with a cutting edge eParticipation platform which will provide their members and stakeholders with innovative interactive tools so they can actively participate in the higher education decision making process with valuable input towards future polices and legislation, both locally and at European level.
The issue of higher education is becoming more and more important on an EU level. EU initiatives and discussions have substantial impact on the national higher education systems. The European Community aims specifically to develop the European dimension in education and the exchange of information on issues common to education systems in the Member States. Universities are primarily organized at national and regional levels and seem to have difficulty in finding a truly European dimension.
The European Union has been moving towards a unified EUROPEAN HIGHER EDUCATION AREA since 1999 when the Bologna declaration was signed and the resulting Bologna Process was started. The Bologna Declaration underlines the importance of educational cooperation across boundaries and across organizations, aiming at developing and strengthening democratic societies. The objectives set out by the Bologna Declaration and the policies developed in the subsequent years are still valid today. Since not all the objectives have been completely achieved, the full and proper implementation of these objectives at European, national and institutional level will require increased momentum and commitment beyond 2010. One of the key aspects towards the success of the Bologna Process is the close cooperation and interaction between governments, higher education institutions, students, staff, employers and quality assurance agencies. However in practice this is hard to achieve and the process lacks the active participation of a large number of students and university stakeholders.
For this purpose, MyUniversity project will equip 14 universities from Bulgaria, Lithuania, Spain, Slovakia and Sweden with a cutting edge eParticipation platform which will provide them with innovative interactive tools so they can actively participate in the higher education decision-making process with valuable input towards future polices and legislation, both locally and at European level.
The target end- users (participants) are students, professors and other members of the university and educational community from Bulgaria, Lithuania, Spain, Slovakia and Sweden, which have a lot to say on educational legal initiatives, may they be at European or local level. At present their proposals rarely reach outside the university and have any impact on legislation and decision making processes.
Currently the end-user universities participating in the project are:
1. International Business School Bulgaria (Bulgaria)
2. University of National and World Economy (Bulgaria)
3. University of Vilnius (Lithuania)
4. Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra (Slovakia)
5. Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (Slovakia)
6. University of Presov in Presov (Slovakia)
7. Rey Juan Carlos University (Spain)
8. University of LeÃ³n (Spain)
9. Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Spain)
10. Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain)
11. University of Barcelona (Spain)
12. University of Girona (Spain)
13. University of Lleida (Spain)
14. Stockholm University (Sweden)
In long term MyUniversity aims to enroll new universities as external trial users (not financed by the EU). At the same time associations, networks, think tanks, research centers among other relevant entities from EU level - related to thematic of the European High Education Area - are also considered as stakeholders of the project and potentially end-users of the super-portal (master-portal) of the project.
The MyUniversity technological solution will be implemented at the 14 participating Universities (in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden). The participating universities will trial the available versions of the platform (MyUniversity solution) among all university stakeholders at both national and regional level. A super-portal (master â€“ portal) will also be created connecting all the sub-portals (individual Universitiesâ€™ platforms).
Universities will need specialized personnel to moderate the eParticipation tools provided by the MyUniversity solution, which allows users to express their opinions on the issues under discussion. It becomes very important to keep the eParticipation tools â€œaliveâ€ with updated content that shows the universitiesâ€™ commitment to the transparency process.
For this reason the universitiesâ€™ personnel will be trained so that the participating universities have everything they need to easily start the trials as quickly and efficiently as possible. The training will include documentation/ manuals, advice on how to use the system, objectives of the trials and best practices on dealing with university stakeholdersâ€™ opinions. The universitiesâ€™ personnel will be responsible for engaging new users in the discussion and encourage participation. New universities will be also enrolled as external trial users â€“ not financed by the EU.
Concluding, two main tasks are required regarding implementation: the initial set up of the platform for each trial user (universities), and the corresponding training on how to use it and maximize its use. It is foreseen that each university will move forward in different pace, and that an advanced version will be deployed later, and these tasks will span over several months.
The MyUniversity technological solution is an eParticipation platform. The technology that will be used is based on COTS (standard) hardware, which will centrally host the MyUniversity e-Participation platform (software) for all the end-users. The MyUniversity software platform will be based on existing tools already being used by dozens of customers (basically Demos@Work, Gov2DemoSS and Pnyx) with the addition of new technical features and tools (advanced portal generation module, integration with FaceBook, security module, automatic translation module, Pnyx secure consultation module and others that may be required based on project evolution). The majority of these tools are built on Web 2.0 Open Source technologies. Only Pnyx, an optional cryptographic solution for secure e-consultations, is not Open Source. The main delivery channel will be the web, with complementary services offered through mobiles. Each participating university will have its own MyUniversity platform.
MyUniversity project will provide an eParticipation service that will facilitate:
Alongside with the university sub-portals (individual Universities' platforms) a super-portal (master portal) will be also developed. The Master portal will be the entry point of all sub-portals and will be the generator of new ones in a simplified way. It will include content from all university portals in addition to its own independent eParticipation tools. It will provide links to sub-portals of participating Universities and an overview of the entire project.
The MyUniversity platform consists of user-friendly channels for direct interaction between decision-makers and citizens (and vice versa). The users will be able to view topics under discussion, access related document, express their views, answer feature surveys, and keep track of all events related to their interest through the calendar and keep track of agendas and meeting minutes of the Council's sessions.
MyUniversity is currently under implementation which means that it is too early to extract final results. As aforementioned, the project is designed as a trial project that focuses on the unification of European Higher Education and its affect on university stakeholders (i.e. students, teaching and administrative staff) with the aim of creating added value from the use of certain information and communication technologies. Of course, it will be vital to assess the feasibility of such an approach. Having gained deep insight from similar community-funded eParticipation projects, MyUniversity will be critically evaluated and lessons will be developed that can be learned from the trial.
A group of independent experts who have worked in the eParticipation and Higher Education sectors that are aware of the EU strategy in the field will evaluate results from both a technological and sociological perspective. In other words they will assess and document benefits, drawbacks and critical success factors.
However, the expected impact of the project is that MyUniversity will lever the existing Bologna decision-making framework to accomplish an impact at both Local, National and European level by:
MyUniversity project aims to disseminate the project and the future obtained results among the public and raise awareness of the potential of eParticipation. The project will foster its efforts to identify, target and enroll new universities as external trial users which will enhance the benefits of the specific eParticipation solution. MyUniversity dissemination channels aim to ensure the collaboration of university stakeholders to the project objectives and the upcoming final results. Via these means the commercial exploitation of the project will also be ensured. Another dissemination objective is to initiate the development of a vibrant community of interest stimulating the involvement of key stakeholders in national and European levels. Most importantly, MyUniversity aims to work closely with projects funded under the same ICT PSP call so as to help collect and consolidate scientific results and disseminate them to all relevant institutions in the EU and to all interested civil society agents. For this reason, the project website is linked to the other projects funded under the same ICT PSP call and other internet sources with similar focus.
For the above objectives, the Consortium of the project has already taken up dissemination activities both at national and European level and will extensively continue to do so. The results of the project will be broadly disseminated by each partner involved in the project. Marketing activities have been developed and will continue to be implemented to ensure appropriate interest in the project from other universities and potential markets that could benefit from a solution of these characteristics. New universities will be individually contacted and offered the possibility of using MyUniversity.
MyUniversity apart from standard dissemination activities has also identified the following streams to utilize as mechanisms for exchange, transfer and replication: social media usage; collaboration with other ICT PSP projects; information exchange with major specialized EU affairs press; publications in scientific magazines/ journals; interaction with the scientific community relevant to eParticipation, eGovernment, and higher education themes; organization of events; interaction with additional EU and International Universities and associations; collaboration with European networks and communities; support action on interuniversity networking and cooperation, etc.
Towards future sustainability and exploitation of the project, MyUniversity will require the following in order to maximize its commercial benefits: detail identification of target groups, providers and end-users, public and governmental bodies; consultations with providers and customers on the acceptance and awareness, barriers, factors influencing their decisions; definition of events where interested stakeholders can be approached; licensing of MyUniversityâ€™s technology to third parties for the development of new technologies and solutions; generate requirements for long-term research on eParticipation.
MyUniversity project is currently under implementation and it is too early to draw some concrete conclusions and coherent lessons learnt. As mentioned above, MyUniversityâ€™s outcome will be evaluated from both a technological and sociological perspective. The main objective is to assess and document benefits, drawbacks and critical success factors for all university stakeholders and on decision-making and policy issues as well as on its potential scalability with a view to mainstreaming it within institutional environments. The idea is to come to a conclusion on what the future of e-Participation should be and how it can improve higher education policy.
More specifically, it is anticipated that MyUniversity will demonstrate how to use an array of specific eParticipation tools (concentrated in a single platform) in multiple countries at the same time, for allowing people to participate in local and European level subjects (in the context of the project the European subjects are limited in principle to the Higher Education Area). It is also foreseen to demonstrate how citizens of different countries can benefit from contents, results and best practices generated by other participants located abroad and how issues being debated in one country can initiate a new discussion in a different one, or even a cross-border discussion on European matters.Lastly the project is expected to demonstrate how easy it is for decision-makers to include eParticipation initiatives as a new factor in their decision making processes. The idea is not to substitute the decision making processes and take it out of the hands of the elected representatives, but to offer them mechanisms to take into account participantsâ€™ opinions.