Innovations in mobility: the NICE project
The NICE project is a three-year EU funded project which places students into international teams to resolve global and societal challenges. We spoke to Anna Creery and John Bennett in the Go Abroad team about how the project got started, and what their hopes are for its future.
Can you tell me about what students will do in the NICE project?
Anna: Students from each of the partner institutions will be placed into international teams. The NICE consortium is creating online toolkits based on intercultural competence and entrepreneurship that students will work through, before they go on to work on team projects to solve global challenges as part of a Student-Led Individually Created Course (SLICC).
Some of those students will go on to participate in a summer school. Students who participate in the SLICC will receive 5 ECTS credits.
Can you give me a potted history of how the project began?
Anna: The University of Edinburgh bid for and received funding for the NICE project from the EU Commission in July 2017. The bid was put forward as a direct consequence of the strategy outlined in Vision 2025 to offer all students some form of international experience.
Within the NICE project, the goal is to encourage students who maybe wouldn’t be able to undertake a standard yearlong exchange to engage in an international experience. For example, there’s specific funding for students who have disabilities. We’re also trying to cater to students who may have caring responsibilities, or may work full time in the summer – those who may be unable to go away for a long period of time.
We’re in quite early stages of this, with seven other partners spread throughout Europe, and all of the partners are coming together to try and create this experience. Our partners are the University of Amsterdam, University College Dublin, University of Goettingen, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University (Iasi), Lund University, University of Padova, and University of Salamanca. I think that this is quite a new, innovative project and everybody’s very excited about it, but that being said there’s also work to do.
I can imagine having partners spread across Europe must bring its own complexities, especially if there isn’t an existing model that you can emulate.
Anna: The partners come from both the Coimbra group and U21. If you look at Lund University, who’s one of our partners in Sweden, they do things differently from the University of Salamanca, but both of those institutions have really strong centres of entrepreneurship, so they’re bringing their different pedagogies together to create a toolkit.
That’s proving to be really interesting, because they have different ways that they teach and different things that they focus on, but then to pick the complementary parts out of both of those teaching methodologies and put them together in a toolkit that can be accessed virtually is really exciting and quite innovative.
What would you say are the key things that you hope a student will take away from the experience?
John: Thinking about the sort of student who’s going to be interested in it, there will be students who are interested in entrepreneurship and this will be their opportunity to experience it outside of the classroom and try out their skills in international environment.
It will also work for students who are perhaps humanities students who aren’t doing any kind of business related degree, and they think “actually, I want to have another skillset that I’m not really gaining from my degree that I can take into the working world,” so what they’ll get from this is the opportunity to participate in an entrepreneurial project and start to utilise and refine some of those skills.
Ideally they’re taking away entrepreneurship and intercultural competency skills, that is the thing that it says on the tin, but at the end of the day it will mean different things to different students based on where they are.
Anna: I think in addition to that, we expect that students who go through the programme will become more employable after graduation as well. This project was inspired by the British Council and European Commission identifying that we need to build these skills into our students as they leave university, because that’s what companies are looking for.
Do you think this is important in the current global context?
John: Absolutely. So many corporations are global and have staff and customers who are all over the world, so they really do want people who can work with those staff and customers. Also, they want people who have an understanding of the international or local context if their employees have to be relocated to a different country. That’s the more practical point but I think maybe more philosophically, the challenges are going to be real global challenges, and though it’s undecided as to what the challenges will be at this stage of the project, we imagine they will be related to global warming, water access, things of that nature.
It will probably be the case that whatever solution the groups put together they will be incomplete in some way, but it means that these students will have been very involved in this kind of international, global environment where we need to resolve some very serious problems that are affecting everyone.
I think the future’s very clear in terms of more interaction between cultures and people, and we would not be preparing our students well if we didn’t address that.
What will success look like for the NICE project?
Anna: For me success would look like students who aren’t able to go on international experiences participating, gaining new skills, having a really great time, meeting new people, and learning in a new and innovative way. Success would also look like staff members who are interested and excited to deliver an international experience in a virtual setting.
In addition, if participants are able to say “I worked on this project and it actually helped me get a job in the field that I wanted after graduation,” that’s our goal. At the end of the project we want to produce something that is tangible and deliverable, and actually adaptable for other institutions to use.
All the information, like the toolkits and the project methodology, will be open source following the project end, so that if other institutions or groups want to use it, they can do.
John: It would be fantastic to see that the students had truly grappled and engaged with the problems that they’re presented with, and even if they come out with an incomplete solution, they’ve participated fully with the project and have overcome any kind of cultural conflicts that have come about as part of the process.