Building Circle U. one handshake at a time

Physical meetings are an important ingredient in building Circle U. In Aarhus, a handshake in a tropical rainforest came to symbolise the continued growth of the alliance.

Aarhus and the greenhouses at the Botanical Garden. Photo: ©Kasper Hornbæk/VisitAarhus

"You could say that the outer walls of Circle U. are made of papers and policies. But the inner walls and the furniture – the things that turn a house into a home – those can only be built on trust and direct interactions between the people who work within the alliance."

The words belong to project manager Lotte Skovborg from Aarhus University. As lead of WP2, she helped organise the recent Staff Week on student mobility in Aarhus. 

Here, about 30 Circle U. colleagues exchanged ideas on how to reach the ultimate goal of increasing mobility among students of the nine partner universities. Some of the partners even got as far as to exchange handshakes and commit to new exchange agreements. 

Offline beats online

"To me, the event was confirmation that even though we are making progress via email and online meetings, the big leaps forward tend to grow out of face-to-face meetings. In these early stages of the alliance, we of course need to share knowledge and best practices and work on our deliverables. But we also need to build a strong sense of commitment to each other. I think we came a bit closer to achieving all those goals – and I hope our guests had the same experience", laughs Skovborg. 

The three-day programme boasted a mix of plenary sessions, workshops and bilateral meetings. Some of the plenary sessions included:

  • Mobility through traineeships: Erasmus+ offers students the opportunity to do a traineeship of anywhere between 60-360 days at one of the other alliance universities. For example, students can join a research group or an administrative office and gain valuable workplace experience. During the Staff Week, a new working group was formed and tasked with exploring this area further.
  • Sustainable mobility: Alliance partners presented a range of different green initiatives, and a participant from this year’s Circle U. Summer School at Humboldt presented findings on universities as drivers for sustainability. All partners came away with a list of ideas that they can work to implement at their home university. 

The high-humidity handshake

Prior to the Staff Week, all participants had been encouraged to organise meetings with faculties or departments at Aarhus University to discuss concrete collaborations. 

It was during one of these that the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Oslo decided to enter into a new exchange agreement with the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Aarhus University. The meeting took place during a tour of the tropical greenhouses in the Botanical Garden, and Lotte Skovborg was thrilled to hear about the development:

“I think it is important in Circle U. to strike a balance where we are devoted to working on larger long-term projects – in WP2 that would be digital infrastructure, learning analytics and so on – but we are also focused on taking steps that are tangible to students and staff in the shorter term. The agreement between Oslo and Aarhus is a great example of that, and I know other departments also made progress towards concrete agreements and initiatives during the Staff Week. This is great for motivation, because as the number of activities grows, it gets easier to visualise what the alliance could look like in the future. And having met more of your Circle U. colleagues in person makes it even easier to work towards our common goals”.

See the programme for the Staff Week (

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Published Oct. 21, 2022 9:23 AM - Last modified Oct. 26, 2022 12:32 PM