How University College Aspira is Boosting International Relations and Exchanges for Staff and Students
We are happy to introduce to you one of our newest organisational members: University College Aspira! We had the pleasure of speaking with three of its representatives: Maja Drviš, International Relations Coordinator, Đurđica Vukić, Computer Studies Coordinator, and Mara Tokić, Coordinator of International Management in Hospitality and Tourism, to learn all about the institution. Although equipped with face masks, the bright smiles of the three ladies on the other side of the screen shined through, equal to their enthusiasm to boost the external partnerships of the institution and connect with their fellow UIIN members.
Established in 2008 by the Contemporary Education Institution of Split, University College Aspira is part of one of the largest private educational groups in Croatia, located both in Split and Zagreb. The private college and non-profit institution offers professional study programs as well as certified programs by the Ministry of Science and Education and numerous trainings in the field of (sport) management, entrepreneurship, communication, computer science, gastronomy, and tourism. It has established itself as a pioneer while introducing the first international Gastronomy study program and being the first higher education institution in Croatia to introduce a mandatory internship from the first year into their curriculum.
The latter also emphasises their practice–focused approach towards education. Aspira understands the importance of embedding industry perspectives into their curriculum to prepare students for professional careers and enhance the employability of their graduates. In addition to industry placements, Aspira works a lot with industry guest lecturers, and most of their academic staff have extensive industry experience or ongoing associations with industry to provide their students with first-hand experience and focus on practical rather than theoretical education.
Such a strong focus on practical experience requires strong relations with industry. Over the last few years Aspira has been working hard to establish partnerships with local industry, mostly for internship placements and collaborative projects. Some of their key accomplishments include collaborations with hotel chain Leonardo Hotels and the Croatian professional Hajduk Split Football Club, engagement in joint projects for social inclusivity in tourism and hospitality (e.g. Aspiratur, TOURISM4ALL) and creating opportunities for students to participate in talent and mentorship programs, like the Argeta Exclusive Academy and JRE for their gastronomy students.
While most international collaborations with industry are happening for the Tourism and Hospitality degrees, partnerships in the area of Computer Engineering are mostly established on the national level. Aspira, however strives to broaden their network on a global level.
“This [creating new relationships] is also why connecting with an international network like UIIN is so important to us. At the moment, we have about 500-600 students looking for internship spots”.
Aspira’s main goal regarding university-industry partnerships is therefore establishing new international relations for internship placement. But internationalisation of the institution in general is also high on the agenda. With more and more courses being taught in English, the number of international students coming to the campus is steadily increasing. A bigger challenge, however, lays in the fact that the local staff and students still seem quite reluctant to engage in international exchanges and collaborations. “This is a shame since all staff members and students who do go abroad have amazing experiences and talk about how they have changed and broadened their view”.
Although COVID-19 has complicated international exchange and new collaborations, the team is working hard on promoting these opportunities for both students and staff. For example, new strategies are currently being developed to become more involved in global joint research and enhancing their institutional research profile. “For now, most professors work mainly on their own research projects, but we would like to explore more community and industry-led research and possibly also in collaboration with UIIN and the network”. Another new initiative they are working on is the development of dual-degree diplomas with the United States and the United Kingdom, in which their local students would also get the chance to study or do an internship abroad for a semester.
The team at Aspira would welcome any advice, good practice examples and new connections through the UIIN community to continue to enhance their university-industry engagement. With a positive and exciting outlook on collaboration, the team is excited to build new relationships and exchange experiences and looks forward to connecting with fellow members at UIIN events.
Want to learn more about Aspira or share any thoughts?
Get in contact with Maja Drviš by email: [email protected]