Interview with Marina Rakocevic, Dean of the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Podgorica, Project Coordinator of the SMART WB project

Interview with Professor Marina Rakocevic, Dean of the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Podgorica, on the Erasmus+ Project, SmartWB.

At the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Podgorica, the implementation of the SMART WB project has begun. Its purpose is to modernize teaching in construction and urban development to align with new “green” policies and EU standards. Please tell us more about the project.

SmartWB is a project from the Capacity Building in Higher Education action of the Erasmus+ program. Capacity building refers to the innovation of curricula, teacher training, and modernization of laboratory equipment and teaching methods, all in line with the new requirements for sustainable, environmentally friendly and climate-ready construction and urban development.

The project acronym is SmartWB, indicating a focus on the Western Balkan countries, specifically Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania. Additionally, Smart implies using “smarter” solutions in construction, such as green materials, low-carbon technologies in producing and installing construction materials, the increased energy efficiency of buildings, principles of circular economy, and careful management of construction waste.

What are the main objectives of the project?

The project aims to modernize a minimum of 20 courses in line with ‘Europe 2020’ – A Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth – and its five strategic goals: employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy, and also in line with the European higher education system modernization initiatives. Furthermore, innovative, problem-based approaches to education will be introduced, involving industry collaboration, to constantly evolve through practical student work and input from the industry and non-academic sectors. An interactive web platform will also be created to exchange knowledge and best practices among consortium partners and interested parties in teaching processes and implementing solutions.

How does this project benefit the Faculty of Civil Engineering, the University of Montenegro, and our community?

This project provides a unique opportunity for the university to showcase its internationalization efforts and partnerships with top institutions in Europe and worldwide. The project is also important to the Faculty of Civil Engineering, involving purchasing advanced laboratory equipment, training faculty staff at partner universities, networking opportunities, and modernizing teaching methods. Additionally, the project will bring a new perspective to civil engineering and urban development, encouraging innovative approaches to teaching, design, and construction for both faculty and students.                            

SMART WB aims to strengthen the relationship between the academic and private sectors, particularly in the construction industry. The Faculty of Civil Engineering has been attempting to establish a permanent connection with the industry for years, to receive feedback on the quality of graduates and identify any gaps in their education. The latest strategy document for the Faculty of Civil Engineering development until 2024 aims to enhance this relationship, specifically by providing mandatory practical training for students through internships in construction firms. However, this has been hindered by a lack of funding. This project intends to provide internships to 40 students by signing the agreements between West Balkans high education institutions and the relevant companies, which would create a sustainable model for this collaboration. This would benefit the students, construction companies, and the faculty by providing insight into the skills and knowledge that the market demands from civil engineers, which can be incorporated into the curriculum.

The project also aims to promote new green technologies in construction and innovative urban development approaches, which would positively impact the community.

At the kickoff meeting, professors from several European countries gathered. Which institutions and which countries are participants in the project? What was the purpose of the meeting, and what are the next steps?

At the kickoff meeting, representatives of all institutions from the Consortium gathered: 12 universities from Austria, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Norway, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania, and five partners from the non-academic sector. Essential documents for the Consortium’s future work were discussed and adopted at the meeting. The activity plan and work dynamics for the first year of the project were presented, tasks were assigned, and the next steps were agreed upon.

One of the first next steps is the analysis of existing curricula at Western Balkan universities and their comparison with EU country faculties’ plans, procurement of laboratory equipment, and creation of staff training. Concurrently, an extensive research study on using green solutions in construction and urban development will be conducted. Once we receive information from these two parallel tasks, we will jointly create new programs, student internships, and initiatives towards decision-makers at the local and state levels to begin changing things at all levels simultaneously, with the help of colleagues from EU universities.

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