How the EIT HEI Initiative decided to support Ukrainian higher education


Interview with EIT project officers Antoine Berwart and Monika Blodgett

We had the opportunity to speak with Antoine Berwart, Project Officer at EIT Urban Mobility, and Monika Blodgett, Programme Manager at EIT Manufacturing, to gain insights into the EIT HEI Initiative’s Ukraine aid programme. This article sheds light on the origins of the programme and its impact on Ukrainian universities.

Antoine Berwart and Monika Blodgett

This article is part of a series about the EIT HEI Initiative’s support for Ukrainian higher education institutions.

Could you please introduce yourselves and your role in the EIT HEI Initiative?

Antoine Berwart: I work as a project officer at EIT Urban Mobility, a Barcelona-based Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). I have been actively engaged with the EIT HEI Initiative since its inception. Currently, I oversee six EIT HEI Initiative projects − three from Cohort 1 (2021) and three from Cohort 3 (2023).

Monika Blodgett: Since 2021 I have been the programme manager of the EIT HEI Initiative at the KIC EIT Manufacturing headquarters in Paris. We support both the initiative and its growing portfolio of projects. Currently we support nine EIT HEI Initiative projects across all three cohorts.

How did the Ukraine aid programme come into being as part of the EIT HEI Initiative?

Antoine: After Russia’s invasion, there were discussions within the EIT on how to support Ukraine. The EIT launched a call asking all the KICs to submit proposals that would benefit Ukraine and its citizens.

Together with Monika, and with the support of the EIT HEI Initiative Team, we decided to submit a proposal. We had just funded 26 consortia via the initiative’s second call for proposals, so we proposed that each of them would add a Ukrainian university to their project.

Our aim was to leverage on the quality of existing projects to increase the impact of the dedicated funding. In addition, by integrating Ukrainian universities in existing projects, we wanted to foster strong links between them and other higher education institutions (HEI).

Finally, despite the very tight timeline and the challenges associated with the inclusion of new partners in ongoing projects, the vast majority of the projects were happy to add a Ukrainian university to their consortium.

Monika: We submitted our proposal to the EIT in July and got the green light in August. A few weeks later, 14 Ukrainian universities were onboarded across 11 consortia and €500,000 was mobilised to finance their participation.

Because of the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, we have scaled up our efforts in 2023. The EIT HEI Initiative is now working with 26 Ukrainian universities across 14 consortia and has allocated €1.5 million to Ukrainian universities. In a matter of a few months, we were able to involve more than 10% of Ukraine’s universities with the initiative.

Another priority for the EIT HEI Initiative team was to promote the initiative’s third call for proposals to Ukrainian organisations. For this, we went the extra mile and recorded a webinar in Ukrainian although all our communication is in English. As a result Ukraine was the country with the highest number of applicants − 37 organisations (27 HEIs and 10 non-academic). In comparison, for Call 3 we had applications from 7 organisations from Belgium, 16 from France, 28 from Greece, 29 from Italy and 33 from Spain.

In the end, 11 Ukrainian organisations (of which 7 are full partners and 4 are associated partners) were selected.

Why is it important for the EIT HEI Initiative to reach Ukrainian organisations?

Monika: Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions of Ukrainians have fled abroad, and access to education has been severely compromised. By the end of 2022, over 2,000 schools and universities were damaged or destroyed. Education is crucial during times of war but is often underfunded in humanitarian response. This puts an entire generation of Ukrainians in danger of not receiving the education they need.

While the Ukrainian education sector has many needs, the EIT HEI Initiative aims to provide valuable support to Ukrainian universities, students and staff. By involving Ukrainian HEIs, the goal is to form long-lasting relationships and collaborations that will benefit both parties even after the projects conclude.

Antoine: Although the organisations from Call 2 have only been working on their respective projects for less than a year, we are already witnessing clear signs of impact:

  • Hundreds of students and staff from Ukrainian HEIs have received training in innovation and entrepreneurship, and dozens of Ukrainian start-ups have received support.
  • The DISCO project has supported three Ukrainian start-ups, which later received the Poland Prize for Internationalisation.
  • The ILCA project and its Ukrainian partners were invited to the United Nation’s Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week in Geneva, during which the project outlined a climate recovery roadmap for Ukraine.

What has been your greatest takeaway from coordinating the Ukraine aid programme?

Antoine: The Ukrainian partners highly appreciate the EIT and the KICs for providing funding for education activities during the war. Many activities and projects had to be stopped or cancelled, making this funding allocation even more valuable. They are hopeful that this collaboration will continue to grow.

The partners are especially grateful for the efficient onboarding process in their KICs and for the opportunity to receive advanced payments. These payments have allowed them to conduct activities that otherwise would have been impossible.

Monika: Everyone is united in their effort to include and collaborate with Ukrainian organisations. The EIT HEI Initiative has had positive impact on these organisations’ efforts to integrate the knowledge triangle and improve their innovation and entrepreneurship capacities. But even more importantly, these organisations have had a positive impact on the EIT HEI Initiative community.

What can Ukrainian organisations expect next from the EIT HEI Initiative?

Monika: Ukrainian organisations, academic staff and students can expect our continued support in the following years. As we build and expand the EIT HEI Initiative community in Ukraine, organisations will continue to have representations, which has already significantly increased since the outset of the initiative.

Further, knowledge transfer and regional approaches are a cornerstone of the initiative and its objectives, and this will directly benefit the Ukrainian HEIs involved in the initiative.

In the next few years, we expect to see a strengthening of the innovation and entrepreneurial capacities of the Ukrainian universities involved in the EIT HEI Initiative. This advancement will be facilitated through the introduction of new training programmes and courses for university staff and students.

Additionally, there will be a valuable exchange of knowledge and best practices among the participating universities, both within and across projects. We also expect a deeper integration of Ukrainian HEIs into the wider pan-European innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems.

Share your experience with the EIT HEI Initiative and inspire higher education institutions across Europe to boost their innovation and entrepreneurship capacity.

Publication: 1 August 2023