ASKFOOD: an alliance for the future of food innovation

ASKFOOD: an alliance for the future of food innovation

ASKFOOD: a knowledge alliance between businesses and HEIs in the food-related sectors to leverage innovation

ASKFOOD is co-ordinated by The University of Teramo, Italy, which has been involved since 2005 in various Erasmus and Erasmus+ projects, under the umbrella of the ISEKI-Food network and ISEKI-Food Association, as both co-ordinator and partner. The network aims to promote modernisation and innovation of Higher Education (HE) at a European and international level by developing interactions between universities and food industries, the latter being the most important job market player for graduates in food science and technology, and food engineering.

What is ASKFOOD?

The Alliance for Skills and Knowledge to Widen Food Sector-related Open Innovation, Optimization and Development (ASKFOOD) is a recent initiative sponsored by the Erasmus+ programme, and co-ordinated by the University of Teramo, aiming to establish a knowledge alliance between HE institutions, industries and business, as well as key stakeholders within the food system. Through the alliance, ASKFOOD works towards leveraging innovation in the food sector, and developing innovative and disruptive training and educational methodologies for the future generation of food science and technology graduates and professionals.

The background of ASKFOOD

ISEKI-Food 4 (2011-2014) was an Erasmus Thematic Network project co-ordinated by the University of Teramo with 89 EU and 89 non-EU universities and organisations, aiming to lead innovation in food studies education and training. It achieved these aims by:

  1.  Identifying and matching the needs of enterprises and the job market by the development of guidelines to upgrade HE courses and training programmes, and designing of innovative teaching materials, e.g. e-learning modules, books, 3D virtual labs/ serious games;
  2. Identifying and implementing teaching skills aimed towards innovative teaching methodologies; and
  3.  Promoting the labour market role of PhDs, student employability and entrepreneurship.

The main outcome of the ISEKI-Food 4 project was that personal skills training needs to be developed at all levels of HE. This was proposed to be facilitated by actions and tools embedded in advanced technical disciplines and, more than this, in collaboration with the job market stakeholders, thereby ensuring improved qualification standards and enhancement of the standard of professionalism.

An opportunity to develop some innovative actions in this field was enabled by the ongoing Erasmus+ programme (2014-2020), where Knowledge Alliance projects are aimed at strengthening Europe’s innovation capacity and fostering innovation in HE and business by favouring co-operation between academia, industry and, more generally, businesses.

EU FOOD-STA: developing collaboration between academia and industry

The recently-concluded EU FOOD-STA project (2014-2018) was an Erasmus+ Knowledge Alliance project, co-ordinated by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), Austria. Led by co-ordinator Professor Gerhard Schleining, the project operated under the umbrella of the ISEKI-Food network and involved seven universities, including the University of Teramo, three food companies, and 11 multiplier organisations and training providers. The project set up new tools to facilitate interaction between academia and industries. The FooD-STA Center, a platform with local hubs in different regions, such as Portugal, Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, and the UK, has been established as an organisational framework for international and sustainable collaborations between industry and academia in the food sector.

The FOOD-STA Center is currently developing its activities by promoting work and training experiences through industry and university placements, as well as illustrating examples of best practice which already exist. These vary widely and include:

  1. Training materials and methods;
  2.  Joint academic and company tutoring and supervision;
  3. Developing continuing professional development programmes and certification schemes for company and university staff;A digital library;
  4. A multilingual database; and
  5. An e-learning platform
  6. The current needs and opportunities in the field of food studies at HE level

The food and drink industry is the EU’s biggest manufacturing sector in terms of jobs and value added. Despite financial and market turmoil, it remains stable, resilient and robust, while remaining increasingly connected to a number of other economic sectors with food-related applications, such as tourism, packaging, nanotech, ICT and pharma. Improved co-operation between these sectors is necessary to tackle emerging challenges, to identify common opportunities in the job market for graduates with HE food studies certificates, and to lead innovation in the food production chain, especially in SMEs.

This necessitates that modern skills and competences meet the job market needs for food technologists and professionals in an otherwise continuously changing working and societal environment. The food industry requires a qualified workforce with both a solid and increasingly multidisciplinary scientific background, but also personal and professional skills which promote innovation and entrepreneurship.

It has been recognised that academia has a key societal role in the development of research, generation of knowledge, and the training and education of highly skilled graduates as the future workforce for various levels and sectors. This concept is applied in the well-known knowledge triangle model that highlights the importance of interplaying links and co-operation between universities and businesses as an ideal driver of knowledge-based economies and societies. Despite the vast importance, established academia-industry collaborations are at a low level and focus on shared projects on demand, as well as student internships. Meanwhile, joint initiatives in the field of HE have been exploited to a limited extent, despite their potential for positive societal and economic impact.

Finally, educational and training approaches and methodologies for the current 2.0 and Z generation of students – as the future food professionals and entrepreneurs – need to be updated and upgraded to match their different learning abilities. Modern and constructive academia-industry interactions promote flow of knowledge and provide an increasingly recognised value through formalised student, staff, industry and business collaborations, novel curriculum development and delivery, and, with thus, governance and lifelong learning co-operation needs to be implemented. Currently lacking are communication and constructive training frameworks for joint educational activities among all stakeholders, which is inhibiting the modernisation and innovation of the food value chain.

ASKFOOD: aims and activities

The ASKFOOD alliance will contribute to:

  1. The upgrade and modernisation of training and educational methodologies in the food-related sectors;
  2. Leverage of innovation and development of the entrepreneurial mindset of the future generation of HE graduates;
  3. Improve academia-industry links and stakeholder interplay in a quintuple helix innovation model at EU and international level; and
  4. Create a permanent knowledge alliance between businesses and HEIs in the food-related sectors.

New learning and teaching methods – multidisciplinary curricula, learner-centred and problem-based teaching and learning – and innovative mapping and co-design of training, supported by open innovation methodologies, will be developed to modernise the workforce of the food sector and improve entrepreneurial skills. Moreover, it will enhance the resilience of mindsets in order to favour responsible innovation of the food value chain.

As a result, ASKFOOD will develop:

  1. Cross-industry knowledge platforms (ASKFOOD Knowledge and Training Hub and Clusters) to support innovative multi-actor food clusters in the EU where permanent and mutual learning and training schemes are aimed at upscaling, innovating, creating and merging future skills for the food sector;
  2. An open innovation framework (ASKFOOD Digital Business and Training Ecosystem (DBTE)) to modernise HE food studies in response to common and cross-sectoral challenges connected with food production and waste and, more generally, the food system;
  3. Testing for innovative mapping and co-designs for training (ASKFOOD Labs, Virtual Incubator), supported by open innovation methodologies, thus supporting network dynamics amongst academia and industry, amongst enterprises of different sectors and amongst new talents and senior professionals;
  4. An interactive repository of emerging skills and professional profiles in a forward-looking perspective (ASKFOOD Interactive Atlas) which will forecast future skill needs in the food sector (ASKFOOD Forecast Aggregator), according to the evolution dynamics of the food sector;
  5. The ASKFOOD Permanent Observatory – a multisectorial, multidisciplinary environment on food education; and
  6. Pilot acceleration and growth hacking solutions to support the practical application of entrepreneurial skills up to the creation of start-ups and spin-offs through ASKFOOD Garage Labs, Virtual Incubator and the Growth Hacking Programme.

Partners of the alliance

Under the co-ordination of the University of Teramo’s Professor Paola Pittia, the ASKFOOD consortium is comprised of an additional five European universities, two research and consulting companies, three food industry associations and one non-profit organisation, all of which will collaborate in a multisectoral and innovative environment. Members include:

  1. University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna;
  2. University of Hohenheim, Germany;
  3. Cyprus University of Technology, Cyprus;
  4. University of Zagreb, Croatia;
  5. Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands;
  6. Cassiopea, Italy;
  7. LVA Lebensmittelversuchsanstalt, Austria;
  8. FEDERALIMENTARE, Italy;
  9. FoodDrinkEurope, Belgium;
  10. Federation of Hellenic Food Industries (SEVT), Greece; and
  11. ISEKI-Food Association, Austria.

 

The consortium is also supported by a core group of EU and non-EU associated partners, involved since the project’s inception, including:

  1. International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences;
  2. Futopedia;
  3. European Federation of Food Science and Technology;
  4. International Union of Food Science and Technology;
  5. Future Food Institute;
  6. FoodTechConect;
  7. European Association of Development Agencies;
  8. Food+I;
  9. UBI GLOBAL;
  10. Startup Europe;
  11. Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, Tunisia;
  12. Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Business, Malta;
  13. IFKA-Hungary;
  14. CRETHIDEV; and
  15. Elsevier.

To maximise the impact and to extend the network, the ASKFOOD Alliance is open to new collaborations.

Acknowledgments

The ERASMUS+ Knowledge Alliance project Alliance for Skills and Knowledge to Widen Food Sector-related Open Innovation, Optimization and Development (ASKFOOD), project number 588375-EPP-1-2017-1-IT-EPPKA2-KA, is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission.

This article reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Professor Paola Pittia

Università degli Studi di Teramo

Facoltà di Bioscienze e Tecnologie

Agroalimentari ed Ambientali

+39 0861 266895

ppittia@unite.it

 

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