Marietta Spiekerman-Middelplaats is one of the pioneers and major promoter of the IDEA League program. It all began 1999 when she, in the company of the Rector of TU Delft Karel Wakker, visited Rector Konrad Osterwalder at the ETH in Zürich, to discuss various ideas for new strategic collaboration. In the following she describes the state of the art, and the expectations for the next decade of this rather unique and fascinating project.

Bernhard Braunecker, SPS Secretary


The IDEA League

Marietta Spiekerman-Middelplaats, TU Delft/NL


The idea of closer cooperation was born in 1999 between Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and the ETH in Zürich. Both universities had already spent many decades working together in the area of research and student exchange. Both universities have a lot in common and are more or less organised along the same lines: both specialise in technology programmes and both are inspiring, open minded, academic communities with a strong international focus and a keen awareness of and responsibility for societal demands.

TU Delft and ETH Zürich decided to extend their working relationship to the strategic level. They wanted to join in with international developments (such as the arrival of the Bachelor-Master structure), but they did not want to compromise the academic quality of their education programmes. Neither university welcomed the idea of American scenarios, whereby 75 percent of students leave the university after the Bachelor’s phase.
TU Delft and ETH Zürich searched for ways of maintaining the high quality of their programmes within this new structure. In view of European developments in higher education they realised that a system of quality assurance would have more impact if embedded into a larger-scale partnership. So they invited RWTH Aachen and Imperial College London to join the collaboration. Like TU Delft and ETH Zürich, these two universities rank among the top in Europe. Aachen and London soon agreed and a number of years later, Paris Tech applied and was admitted to join the IDEA League.


Ten Years of IDEA League

This year (2009) marks the IDEA League’s tenth anniversary. In those ten years, the IDEA League has undertaken a wide and varied range of strategic activities, including student and staff exchanges and the realisation of a common quality assurance system, which for instance also addresses the topic of learning outcomes and the specification of criteria required for the qualification profile of the degree programmes. This was a complex task, which required the universities to share their "trade secrets" and show each other how quality is realised and guaranteed within their organisation. Although this degree of openness did not always come naturally, looking back, everyone is pleased with this step. The five members learned a lot from each other’s good practices and were all forced to think long and hard about their perception of academic quality in a university degree programme. This is valuable information, which is also useful when designing new programmes. All members of the IDEA League score consistently high in various international rankings (despite all the changes in the area of education), and a shared vision on the standard of quality assurance has certainly helped. Students from within and outside Europe can be assured that the five affiliated universities do not only pursue high-level scientific research, but also provide education that satisfies all the quality criteria.

Another very different type of IDEA League activity that I would like to mention here is the organisation of various summer schools for students, including the one on ‘ethics and technology’. Not only do these kinds of short courses form a valuable contribution to the academic background of our future scientists and engineers, but they are also very popular among the students who enjoy the international focus and atmosphere of these summer schools.


Networks & Outlook

Over the last few years, we have been facing massive global challenges in the area of environment, climate, energy, health and infrastructures. They require drastic solutions that can only be realised by bringing together the smartest brains from all over the world to work on this together. And universities will play a major role to establish and support these scientific teams which are of paramount importance to create step changes that will contribute to solutions for these enormous challenges. It is high time for creative and pioneering new ideas, for cutting edge research and results. It is up to universities and knowledge institutes to think about new technological ways, and working together within the IDEA League is a good first step. As an example, the IDEA League along with related industrial partners and a number of other knowledge institutions submitted a proposal to the EU outlining ideas for coping with the consequences of climate change. If the proposal is accepted, this so called Knowledge Innovation Community will be awarded substantial annual funding, which will put us in a position to spend the next six years to join in and work on solutions to this global problem.

The current issues regarding for instance sustainability and climate extend beyond the European borders, which is why it is so important to create knowledge networks stretching across the world. In this respect, the IDEA League is really proving its worth. In Asia, for example, there are similar developments where leading universities of technology form new knowledge networks that will give impetus to their traditional cooperation in research and education. At the same time, these universities in Japan, China, Korea or Singapore are also looking to Europe in search of suitable universities or collaborations to enhance their networks. A network like the IDEA League, consisting of five leading European universities, is an attractive partner. The first steps in this direction have already been made. Upon the invitation of the “Asian Consortium of Leading Universities of Technology” IDEA League recently signed an agreement to confirm the mutual intent for closer cooperation.

IDEA League today

The IDEA League is a network of five leading universities of technology and science, Imperial College London, TU Delft (Technische Universiteit Delft), ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich), RWTH Aachen (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen) and Paris Tech (Grandes Ecoles d'Ingenieurs de Paris). In a world of accelerating globalisation of research and technology, the IDEA League aims to make an active contribution to the European agenda, and to participate in the programmes and actions of the EU (most notably the framework programmes), the platforms and the European Institute of Technology (EIT). This is the framework in which the IDEA League anchors its strategy on research, education and innovation. Established as a highly selective university network based on excellence, the IDEA League sees its task as paving the way for urgentlyneeded technological breakthroughs in Europe.


[Released: January 2010]