Knowledge and skills are the tools for finding solutions to the complex sustainability problems that Europe’s regions are facing. Based on this principle, the INVEST Alliance is working towards a modern European University, where the new generation of Europeans will be educated and conduct research. INVEST brings together different disciplines to offer excellent education, training, and research. Jannie van der Luit, coordinator from Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, explains the innovative approach: "Ultimately INVEST will contribute to shaping the European Education Area".

Spotlight: INVEST Alliance - Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences

INVESTing in solutions  

The alliance INnoVations of REgional Sustainability: European UniversiTy (INVEST) is creating a modern European University where a new generation of Europeans will seek solutions to today's complex sustainability challenges. Within the alliance, Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences is working with four other colleges and universities in Slovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Finland. Within INVEST, the provision of education, training, and research is not only about acquiring knowledge, but also about using that knowledge to solve regional challenges. The three core themes are: Water, energy, food and environment nexus; Quality of life; and Entrepreneurship. These are approached in an interdisciplinary manner. Thus, the alliance aims to shape a European University where professionals and scientists are trained who can introduce and continue to support the process of sustainability in European regions.

Connected to the region 

The alliance stands for the socio-economic development of the region, not only in theory but also in practice. "We as institutions are intertwined with the region, and know what is going on there," said Jannie van der Luit, project coordinator from Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. The issues that the institutions are working on, particularly around sustainability, are becoming more and more important. The transition to a circular economy and increasingly more local production cycles cannot be seen isolated from the socio-economic development of the region. In Living Labs, a methodology that Van Hall Larenstein has been working with for a number of years, students, partners from professional practice, and regional stakeholders such as municipal governments come together to address the issues through applied research.

Lifelong learning and EDUC8EU

INVEST's joint degree programs are also being developed integrally. Students, staff and partners from the regions sit at the table with each other to help think about the content. Multidisciplinarity of the modules is paramount: the technical, legal, social, innovative, and entrepreneurial sides of a theme are all addressed. Ultimately INVEST will offer ten bachelor's, four master’s, and two PhD programs, with student and staff mobility embedded in the curricula. In curriculum development, lifelong learning is considered from the outset, by looking at which sections are suitable for micro-credentials, blended learning, and who can enter this. Professionals trained in professional education can then collect micro-credentials within INVEST. In this way, a learning sequence is created from vocational education to scientific education and professional practice. To make this possible, the alliance is working towards a common European accreditation system and quality assurance system that brings together all the strengths of the individual partners. Through INVEST's innovative EDUC8EU IT system, all student activities can be planned, and automatically recognized.

Complementarity is the key

All INVEST partners are on equal footing, but each brings its own expertise, says Van der Luit. Van Hall Larenstein, for example, has a major role in educational innovation. The specialized and green University of Applied Sciences already has a great deal of experience in working with professional practice and competency-based, challenge-based education. Programmes such as Environmental Sciences work integrally by nature, because otherwise it is difficult to find solutions to problems. Another partner has more experience with ICT, and is quicker to come up with solutions to offer blended learning. The institutions complement each other in terms of content and approach. The vision and goals are completely shared. A condition for the success of intensive, long-term collaboration is therefore to find trusted partners who complement it, bearing in mind one's own vision of the future.

The road to a European model

The intention is for INVEST to offer actual joint degrees. However, there are still some bumps in the road that require effort from the member states regarding the adaptation of laws and regulations. The problem of European cooperation at the moment is that national accreditation systems differ greatly, even though they are all aligned with the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). Current forms of joint degrees, such as the Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters, often only receive accreditation in one country, after which a compensation arrangement is made for the other institutions. To truly realize the dream of a modern European University, there is a need for a European accreditation system that all ministries recognize and a European funding system for both implementation and student scholarships.

INVEST in ten years’ time

The ambitions are high. In ten years, INVEST will not only be offering new, integrated, joint programs, but the alliance will also have transformed the education system. INVEST will act as an innovation hub, from which educational innovation will permeate within the universities in the alliance and the educational system of which they are part. In this way, the alliance will help shape the European Education Area. The innovations that come with the collaboration are also interesting for other degree programs within the institutions. Through INVEST4Excellence the alliance wants to translate its innovations into a European innovation ecosystem for higher education, business, and society.


In the 'Spotlight' section, Neth-ER invites you for a look behind the scenes of a special European project of one of our members or their supporters. The INVEST alliance is part of the second pilot round of the European Universities Initiative, in which networks of higher education institutions engage in intensive cooperation with each other. The initiative has been included as a program component within the new Erasmus+. In total there are currently 41 pilot alliances, in which 13 Dutch universities of applied sciences and research universities are affiliated. An upcoming European higher education reform strategy will draw lessons from the experiences of the alliances.