UAlberta makes strong Central European connection

Partnership with University of Vienna will enrich research and help students at both universities gain global perspective.

By Michael Davies-Venn on December 19, 2012

(Edmonton) More University of Alberta students and faculty now have opportunities to study and engage in research at one of the oldest and top-ranking universities in Central Europe.

The University of Vienna recently selected the U of A to form a comprehensive partnership that will enable students and faculty from both universities to study and work on joint research in topics including history and German language studies, geological and medical sciences, and philological-cultural studies.

Joseph Patrouch, director of the U of A’s Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies, signed a university-wide memorandum of understanding in Vienna with Heinz Fassmann, vice-rector of the University of Vienna.

The agreement strengthens the U of A’s relationship with one of the oldest universities in Europe, creating new possibilities for U of A students and faculty in one of Europe’s hubs of culture, heritage and tradition.

“This is a first step in a world of connections. We’ve opened up a space and now it’s up to the people on both sides to fill it with projects,” Patrouch said. “One of my highest priorities now is to expand this relationship and ensure that students and faculty know of the infinite possibilities.”

Serving Canada, the Wirth Institute is one of seven such establishments in the world being sponsored by the Austrian government—which is partly why Fassmann says the U of A makes an ideal partner.

“Your university has the Wirth Institute, which specializes in the history of middle Europe, and Austria is part of that. Also, yours is a very good university with a high standard of academic life,” he said. “The University of Vienna is one of the best universities in Europe and without doubt the best in Austria. It’s a very traditional university, founded in 1365. We’re more than 600 years old, and we offer a broad range of curriculums.”

One of the priorities in the U of A’s international engagement strategy is creating opportunities for student mobility—ensuring that students get an international education experience. Fassmann says that effort is similar to objectives at the University of Vienna, noting that student mobility fosters international relations and creates opportunities for understanding on global issues.

“Our students should get a global perspective in their education. They should go out of Austria and see how societies are working. That’s very important for a small country like Austria—our graduates should go out and they should know what’s happening in Canada.

“It’s good for students to spend time in a foreign country to broaden perspectives. That is one of the main things academic education does—to look outside traditional knowledge, the traditional environment. That’s good for students personally, and maybe for the world, too.”

Patrouch says this agreement exemplifies the institute’s mandate to raise the profile of Central Europe and Central European Studies in Canada.

“It is my goal to develop ties with academic institutions of this calibre in all of the seven countries the Wirth Institute is formally connected with,” he said.

That goal is consistent with the university’s broader objectives to help build a stronger global research community to address pressing challenges including climate change, public health and cultural understanding.

“Everybody is thinking about the European Union and what’s going on with that project,” he said. “We will be in the midst of that volatile part of the world, which is dealing with European Union expansion, and will contribute to understanding on contemporary developments.”