In the beginning of December 2020, we were supposed to be together with our SUCSESS project partners in Johannesburg for the first training of trainers. There were going to be four in-person trainings altogether, three of them taking place in South Africa and one in Finland. Then the pandemic happened, and everything changed. The activities of the project were delayed, and plans had to be revised, but the project did not come to a stand-still. Far from it!
Technology leading the way
Here we are, working via Teams and Zoom, preparing our first training to take place in February next year, online. Depending on the pandemic, we may have to have the second training online as well. Technology has enabled collaboration with our project partners who are based in Finland, the U.K. and in three locations in South Africa. For the time being, we are deciding what platform to use for our trainings. It may be Moodle, Teams, Google Drive, Blackboard…or something else entirely.
Virtual activities galore
The first work package, including a research project identifying best practices for university-enterprise cooperation, was a success. The students, lecturers and industry representatives in all three countries were asked for their viewpoints on the benefits and challenges related to the collaboration between universities and companies. All the interviews were conducted either by Zoom or Teams which worked very well.
We have already had a webinar and InstaLive discussion about the results of the research. It is actually surprisingly easy to organise activities online during the pandemic. Sometimes we even wonder whether these activities would have taken place at all if things were normal. All partners are learning about new digital solutions together, which is also one of the benefits of international development projects.
Dissemination at full force
We have been able to add content to the digital channels of the project – to disseminate the project outcomes. The gap report is online, there are blogs, webinars, introductions of the project teams and articles available online. The project website and the social media sites in Twitter and Facebook are active. We will keep the project alive and kicking till it is time to meet again online or in person.
From travel expenses to climate savvy
We all like to meet new people, network, learn about different cultures and universities. One of the benefits of Erasmus Plus projects is that they involve these kinds of activities. This year, we have not been able to travel and have had to stay put in our countries. It has been better for the environment, of course. We have noticed that networking can happen online as well. However, the EU Commission still believes that networking can only happen face-to-face as much of the project funding is tied to travel expenses. Now that we have not been able to travel, we face challenges in using the budget as planned. Thus, we will not get the next part of the project funding from the EU within the normal 22 months after starting the project.
Even though we are grateful for the digital means that allow us to work with the project, we hope the SUCSESS project will not end up being solely a virtual project in the end. Fortunately, we were able to organise the kick-off meeting in Porvoo, Finland, before the COVID-19 outbreak. It was crucial for us to get to know each other and create trust between project partners. The entire project takes three years, so we wish to be able to travel to South Africa eventually, and hope that we can welcome our project partners up north to Finland as well. In the meanwhile, we continue to benefit from the digital tools available to us to keep the project going and activity levels up!
SUCSESS – Strengthening university-enterprise cooperation in South Africa to support regional development by enhancing lifelong learning skills, social innovations and inclusivity.