University’s eyes and ears in Brussels

Meri Georgievska–van de Laar has been EU Liaison officer at Erasmus University Rotterdam for 9 months now. She looks back on a year being the university’s ‘eyes and ears’ in Brussels. “Together with our researchers I can facilitate opportunities for them. When they have research ideas or topics they want to pursue, but there is no feasible call, we can work on agenda setting or introducing that topic to the policymakers who can then translate it into possible funding opportunity.”

What does an EU liaison officer do?
My role is to bring the Erasmus University Rotterdam closer to the European policies and the European research agenda. And the other way around: to bring international opportunities and developments to this university. The ultimate goal is to match research agendas, to get involved as much as possible in EU-funded research programs and projects like Horizon Europe.

Meeting and talking to various colleagues here is an important part of the job. And talking to our people across all schools and departments, I have realized that there are many things that could be done in an inter-departmental and cross-disciplinary way. This is a good practice nowadays: most of EU financing goes to multidisciplinary research.”

In what kind of networks are you involved, and what makes these networks important for the university?
“I am involved in a number of associations and networks active in Brussels such as the European Association of Social Sciences and Humanities (EASSH), the European Universities Association EUA and Science|Business. I am part of the National RVO sounding board groups on Horizon, the network of Dutch EU Liaison Officers, VSNU and in Neth-er. A nice part of this job is that I get to meet lots of people, colleagues from other universities for example, and we discuss topics of joint interest and share valuable insights.

In addition to the academic networks, since September last year, we are also a member of the Science|Business network, that brings together the worlds of academia, policymakers and industry.”

“This fits the norm nowadays: most of EU financing goes to multidisciplinary research”

What do you consider the biggest challenge for Erasmus University Rotterdam when it comes to engagement in European networks and funding?
The biggest challenge is to become a member of one of the most prestigious networks, like the League of European Research Universities, or the Guild. These are closed clubs with elite membership of a limited number of universities. They are very highly regarded and respected by policymakers in Brussels and regularly invited around the table. In the past EUR tried to become a member but without success. We will try again, with a different approach.

Becoming a member of an association is not a goal in itself. We should aim at getting most out of the memberships by active engagement and participation in various events, experts’ group, working processes, of these associations, where opinions and positions are created, where recommendations for the policymakers are drafted, where partnerships for projects are being discussed, etc. And here, I see the challenge for EUR. Commitment and active engagement from EUR’s scientific community is necessary. Myself, I can be present at various events and assemblies, and I try to represent us as good as I can, but what I see, and what is needed, is deans, professors, researchers, sitting around the table together with colleagues from other universities. So here we need to also re-think our strategic approach towards the associations, with specific goals, and people devoted to achieving maximum impact for EUR.

When it comes to European Funding, from what I have seen so far, there is enormous potential in our research community. There is also an interest. The SSH are getting more and more important, especially that the EU is aiming at tackling societal and economic problems in a holistic manner, with a multi-disciplinary approach in research. Looking at what the programming documents of the EU offer, EUR can really do a lot, and far more than what we have done so far.”

How can you help our researchers?
One thing I can definitely do is share their experiences and success stories, and give our researchers visibility and exposure to wider networks and audiences, and in the wider Brussels arena.

Together with our researchers, I can facilitate opportunities for them. When they have research ideas or topics they want to pursue, but there is no feasible call, we can work on agenda-setting or introducing that topic to the policymakers who can then translate it into possible funding opportunity. Also, very important, what I think I am in a good position to do, is connecting researchers and facilitating collaboration on topics of multi-disciplinary nature. Take for example AI – every faculty does research on AI. I am very happy we finally have an AI-taskforce and I hope together we can identify and pursue a larger funding opportunity in the near future.”

“Take for example A.I. – every faculty does research on A.I. I am very happy we finally have an A.I.-taskforce”

What are some interesting research projects you’ve seen so far?
“I have already spoken to a lot of researchers from different faculties, and I have come across some very interesting ideas and projects. For example, I am impressed by the scope of work of the Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics. RSM-Professor Stefano Puntoni gave me a glimpse into his research on psychological reactions to human versus robotic job replacement, and the conclusions are interesting and surprising. For example: people tend to prefer workers to be replaced by other human workers (as opposed to robots); however, paradoxically, this preference reverses when people consider the prospect of losing their own job.

Professor Klaus Heine from ESL chairs our Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence in Digital Governance, where among other things, he looks into the question whether Artificial intelligence should get legal personality? i.e. Why would data belong to a company, individuals or the state? Why would an AI-based system not have a certain degree of legal autonomy to serve society? Intriguing isn’t’ it? 

Associate Professor Jason Pridmore from ESHCC conducts research related to mediated misinformation and citizen beliefs, and how deep fakes in social media have significant implications for democratic processes and the persuasive use of social media. 

Julia Wittmayer from DRIFT, runs another very interesting project on social innovations in energy transitions, where six cities and six research institutions in Europe are using techniques to figure out how we can make sure that social innovations accelerate the transition from the use of fossil fuels to a more sustainable energy system.

With Professor Peter Scholten at ESSB we have collaborated in a very large proposal for Erasmus+ project that, if successful, will create an European University Alliance of eight universities across Europe and eight post-industrial cities, in order to create an innovative and sustainable university collaboration characterised by superdiversity, social inclusion and furthering societal impact. This is part of the large flagship program of the European Commission that aims at creating transnational alliances that will become the universities of the future. 

I must of course mention our Frugal Innovation Team at ISS in the Hague, under the leadership of Professor Peter Knorringa, where they conduct research on challenges relating to the interaction between technology, entrepreneurship and development

More information

If you would like to know more about European networks, their activities, and possible opportunities, please contact Meri Georgievska-van de Laar (EU Liaison Officer) by sending an email to researchservices@eur.nl.