New ways of networking: U!REKA Conference 2020 goes virtual

30 Nov 2020 00:00 | Communication

The fifth U!REKA Conference 2020 marked a first for the European consortium as its annual networking and collaboration event moved online this year. Hosted by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the two-day event saw participants from across its eight European partner countries unite for virtual workshops and online networking on 16 and 17 November 2020.

The event was organised online in Zoom due to the current global Covid-19 situation. This marked the first time that the conference was accessible to everyone in U!REKA member institutions at their home offices. Nevertheless, the event was a success in gaining interest with around 230 registered participants. This clearly indicates the importance and need for international collaboration and knowledge sharing in higher education. This need is perhaps even stronger than before in these exceptional times.

The programme consisted of different interactive online sessions, such as virtual cafés and online round tables. In addition, there were two calls for proposals: a call for collaboration proposals and a call for good practices in e-teaching and e-learning.

Partner Metropolia University of Applied Sciences hosted the U!REKA 2020 Conference, which was organised virtually for the first time.

Sharing knowledge

The first conference session “Good Morning Europe” opened the event by gaining the top number of 132 international online participants in a single session. During the opening, President and CEO Riitta Konkola from Metropolia UAS and Rector Geleyn Meijer from Amsterdam UAS together with the Conference Host Minna Kaihovirta, highlighted the importance of getting more students involved in the network.

The discussion was followed by presentations from each of the working groups: U!REKA Coordinators group, U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons, Research Support Group, Higher Education Research and Development Working Group, Mobility Working Group, Student Group, Digital Transformation Working Group and the Internationalisation at Home Group.

The first keynote speaker, Senior Adviser Ilkka Myllymäki from the Helsinki EU Office, spoke of the importance of networks and visibility in Brussels. The active participants also shared some practical networking tips, such as the Smart Specialisation Platform ( The Zoom chat feed was lively as attendees shared experiences and remarks on different Brussels-based networks and forums.

Afternoon sessions were dedicated to introducing Metropolia’s Innovation Hubs ( to U!REKA partners. Parallel virtual cafés organised by the Innovation Directors and their teams offered the possibility to network and gain insight into RDI activities in Metropolia.

Seeking new collaboration

The virtual cafés were followed by workshops that focused on presenting new collaboration ideas, developing innovative solutions and finding trusted partners among U!REKA colleagues.

The call for collaboration proposals resulted in approximately 30 proposals in the following six thematic areas: Smart Mobility, Clean and Sustainable Solutions, Functional City for People, Data-driven Construction, Wellbeing and Health Services, and (Digital) Learning Ecosystems and Development. The workshops were boosted by the use of the VIIMA innovation and ideation platform ( that functioned as an online networking tool for people to connect around ideas prior to the conference.

The first day of the conference was concluded by the opening of the Urban Commons Virtual Exhibition ( ) by Lecturer Raul Gschrey from Frankfurt AUS. The exhibition presented the Urban Commons' educational framework as well as a wide variety of student works produced at four U!REKA institutions. This included videos, photography as well as written and spoken texts providing insights into urban commons initiatives and projects in the participating cities of Amsterdam, Ghent, Frankfurt and Helsinki.

The U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons Virtual Exhibition officially opened during the conference.

Perspectives on open innovation ecosystems

The second conference day kicked off with a keynote session that was dedicated to the main conference theme of Open Innovation Ecosystems. To facilitate the sharing of knowledge and good practices related to open innovation ecosystems, the session started with case examples from Metropolia, presenting the Helsinki XR Center (, Jätkäsaari Mobility Lab (, and the Wellbeing and Health Village (“HyMy-Village”) ( The presentations were followed by a lively discussion, which highlighted the importance of networking. Participants particularly appreciated the opportunity to discuss directly with students and representatives from the professional field and hear about their experiences in the knowledge triangle.

To start the section on new e-learning possibilities, conference participants had the chance to play an escape room-inspired online game called the Great Data Mystery, which represents a gamified way of learning data management, using the platform. Solving codes to escape from the virtual room turned out to be just as tricky as in on-site escape games.

The following online round table for sharing good practices in e-teaching and e-learning gathered approximately ten presentations from participants showcasing good practices and ideas. The changing world is challenging institutions of higher education to change the way they operate and to develop different forms of e-teaching and e-learning, e.g., online exams as well as IT tools for teaching, student participation and guidance. Thus, sharing best practices among the U!REKA institutions and finding ways to support each other in this context is vital.

Looking to the future

The closing session of the conference was titled the Future of U!REKA and provided a brief reflection on the possible future development of the alliance.

Three U!REKA Steering Committee members: President Dr. Koen Goethals (HOGent), Vice-Rector Igor Ivan (VSB Ostrava) and President, CEO Riitta Konkola (Metropolia UAS), guided by Conference Host Minna Kaihovirta, first shared their thoughts and visions on the future strategy of U!REKA, based on the results of a survey made prior to the conference. The survey gathered input and ideas on future development and focus areas of collaboration from people currently active in different U!REKA working groups. The survey results, as well as comments from the conference participants during this session, indicated that continuing growth into a more mature alliance and deeper collaboration are considered to be of key importance.

Based on the discussion, when taking the next steps, it is important to also ensure our U!REKA community has sufficient resources and support for taking concrete action on the collaboration initiatives that arise. The survey was the first step on our common path for drafting a work plan to help us move forward as an evolving alliance.

The U!REKA consortium organises annual conferences for developing cooperation projects, networking and sharing best practices. The partners include the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University HOGENT University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, VSB – Technical University of Ostrava and Politécnico de Lisboa.

Further information on the U!REKA annual conference 2020

Niina Huovinen

U!REKA co-coordinator at Metropolia UAS