About Europe’s universities and the SET Plan: lessons from the UNI-SET project
What are the findings of the UNI-SET project on skills demand in clean energy sub-sectors and of graduates by higher education institutions?
The FP7 UNI-SET project , entitled ‘Mobilising the Research, Innovation and Educational Capacities of Europe’s Universities in the SET Plan, supported the participation of universities in the SET Plan process and in EU energy research in general. Coordinated by the European University Association (EUA) , in partnership with KU Leuven and several universities in InnoEnergy, it mapped the activities of European universities in the energy field and produced an online, interactive tool that displays master’s, doctoral and research programmes related to the sector. Additionally, the UNISET project surveyed potential energy field employers to gain insight into the current and future demand for professional skills and knowledge in the sector.
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As part of these activities, which mobilised representatives from more than 700 universities, we identified skills needed in several areas of the SET Plan priority actions, such as smart grids, system simulation, conventional technologies, renewable technologies, energy efficiency and energy systems control. These are listed in the UNI-SET ‘Energy Transition and the Future of Energy Research, Innovation and Education: An Action Agenda for European Universities’ (Action Agenda) .
Furthermore, we found that more than 70% of universities engaged  in energy-related research reported regular university-business collaboration, but much less in master programmes. In fact, many of these programmes are rather siloed on average, i.e. 70% of the 579 master’s programmes included in the UNI-SET survey are purely in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. But at least 18% combined STEM and Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH), usually business and management. This is roughly equivalent to 26 000 and 6 600 students respectively .
All the facts and discussions led us to conclude that emerging skills needs follow the rapid pace of change in the European energy system. This, in turn, affects the spectrum of professional skills required in the energy sector. Therefore, action needs to be taken immediately, and there is a lot of potential for more collaboration between universities and companies to integrate these new skills needs into their curricula and programmes.
'The UNI-SET project surveyed potential energy field employers to gain insight into the current and future demand for professional skills and knowledge in the sector'
To show the extent of the exercise, let us look at a few numbers summarising participation: over 200 universities and 100 companies took part in the UNI-SET surveys , and over 700 did so in a series of high-level events. First, six small, targeted ‘professional profile identification workshops’ were hosted by several university members of KIC InnoEnergy , namely KU Leuven, UPC BarcelonaTech, Grenoble INP, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Jagiellonian University and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Second, to reach out to the large university community, five ‘Energy Clustering Events’ (ECEs), gathering 120 participants each, were organised around the main SET Plan priority actions. The Workshops and ECEs brought together professors, researchers and companies engaged in producing and delivering innovative educational programmes to better equip graduates with skills for the labour market. The ECEs were hosted by the National University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Politectinco di Torino, Politehnica di Buchuresti, Imperial College London and KU Leuven.
'UNI-SET has enabled us to build an extensive network of universities and their business partners, ready to engage further in the development of new short programmes and modules'
What are the main points for action to overcome remaining skills mismatches?
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Through UNI-SET, we identified a range of actions that can support universities to prepare graduates in the best possible way for their future roles as researchers or professionals in the labour market. One is, of course, to interact more with industry, for instance through mobility programmes. Another is the development of state-of-the-art short programmes and modules in close collaboration with business. Companies and other stakeholders (e.g. city councils) are increasingly interested in educational content and delivery by universities. However, the collaboration focuses on common research interests, and collaboration in education is not yet the norm.
UNI-SET also provided some practical recommendations to address multidisciplinary needs based on pioneering interdisciplinary teams in universities. In the Action Agenda, we covered this dimension by looking at the technical, economic, political and societal needs of the areas above, and provided examples of how to integrate them in, for instance, master programmes or individual courses. The study also covered cross-cutting issues such as data analytics, urban planning and energy markets. Universities can use the Action Agenda as a basis to develop new courses, including intended learning outcomes and employment skills, which are at the core of any higher education curriculum.
How will UNI-SET work continue in the future?
UNI-SET has enabled us to build an extensive network of universities and their business partners, ready to engage further in the development of new short programmes and modules. This would be a way to produce teaching and learning material based on state-of-the-art knowledge, to educate, train, or re-train professionals and researchers for the labour market. We cannot anticipate when research and innovation breakthroughs are going to take place, but we can build the human resource foundation, i.e. people equipped with the most up-to-date knowledge to address the SET Plan priority actions, to ensure a sustainable energy future for Europe.
For EUA, this will take place through our Energy & Environment Platform . We will continue to promote the UNI-SET outputs such as the Action Agenda and the Roadmap for European Universities in Energy , as we did in the first ECE after UNI-SET, hosted by Université La Lorraine, in March this year. We are regularly consulted by the European Commission, as part of the stakeholders’ community engaged in the implementation of the SET Plan, and we contribute through our pan-European network of experts in energy research and education. We are exploiting fully the outcomes of UNI-SET to further build a network of universities and businesses to serve the objectives of the SET Plan. We are doing so in collaboration with two other large pan-European associations in the energy research landscape, the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA)  and KIC InnoEnergy . The common position we published in June this year, with consensus views on energy for the new Framework Programme Horizon Europe , demonstrates our commitment to working towards a sustainable energy future.
 202 European universities were engaged in the survey
 The UNI-SET Universities Survey Report 2017