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Half time for TRIO – a look back, and a look ahead

The TRIO university project is now going into the second half of its term. Professor Burkhard Freitag, scientific head of the project until now, and Professor Tomas Sauer, who will be taking over that function in January, take a look back ... and a look ahead. By Nicola Jacobi


This article comes from the 4/2020 issue of the transfer magazine 'TRIOLOG. Science – Economy – Society in Eastern Bavaria' with the emphasis on crisis and opportunity. The university consortium Transfer and Innovation in Eastern Bavaria (TRIO) is a project of six East Bavarian universities, in which the University of Passau is also taking part. The project is being funded from the programme 'Innovative University' by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and will run for five years. TRIO sees itself as an initiator of innovations in Eastern Bavaria. It aims to expand and actively organise the transfer of knowledge and technology and intensify the exchange between science, economy and society in the region.


Why is knowledge transfer from the university to the economy and society – and vice versa – so important?

Professor Burkhard Freitag: Society calls for explanations for complex phenomena – the Corona crisis is an example. Forecasts are expected on important issues, for example climate change, as are stimuli for processes of change. But all that is only possible on the basis of scientific analysis and with the aid of scientific models which factor in the observations made and measurements taken, and systematise them on the basis of acknowledged correlations.

The economy must adapt to changing conditions all the time and is keen to hold its own in competition. Continual innovations are required in order to be able to pursue the advancement and new development of products and production processes. Knowledge and technology transfer forms an important basis for this, also, for example, with regard to environmentally friendly production, sustainable products, humane working conditions and the protection of personal rights.

Exchanging information about the current objectives of research and development in the economy and society can enhance one's own research.

Professor Burkhard Freitag, scientific head of the project TRIO

But the other way round too, knowledge and technology transfer has advantages for science. Exchanging information about the current objectives of research and development in the economy and society can enhance one's own research. Research is also carried on in enterprises, often on a large scale, so that cooperation can create new facilities in terms of resources, data analysis, evaluation etc.

How can knowledge and technology transfer promote innovation?

Freitag: Without informed communication between science and the economy / society, it is hard to initiate innovations in a timely and effective manner. So we need to exploit the whole range of information events and workshops, from the formation of cooperation networks that cater to concrete topics to the one-on-one conversation between entrepreneur and scientist.

Professor Burkhard Freitag is director of the Chair of Information Management and the Institute of Information Systems and Software Engineering (IFIS) at the University of Passau. He will be retiring in April 2021. Professor Freitag has played an important part in the establishment of the university consortium TRIO. He has held the position of scientific director since the project began in 2018.

Knowledge transfer and scientific communication are taking place meanwhile at all universities and other higher education institutions. What can TRIO do better than each individual institution can do for itself?

Freitag: One of the basic assumptions of the TRIO project is that many major research and development topics can only be dealt with, or at least dealt with better, in collaboration between different specialist disciplines. This requires a critical mass of scientists and a wide range of skills, from the natural sciences and engineering all the way through to ethics. The East Bavarian universities together are in a position to offer such an environment. And there is also the advantageous diversity of our university types, which helps to bridge the gap between praxis, applied research and basic research.

Where do you see particular potential for strengthening the cooperation between higher education institutions and enterprises even more, and initiating new projects, especially in the field of digitalisation?

Professor Tomas Sauer: Digitalisation has still not lost any of its relevance, even if just at the moment other topics may seem more newsworthy. All the partner universities are in the process of massively expanding their digitalisation skills in the broader sense of the phrase, which can only increase the transfer potential. And of course, that also – and especially – includes the current vogue topic of artificial intelligence.

Professor Tomas Sauer

Professor Tomas Sauer

conducts research on digital image processing

How can strategies of image processing and deep learning be combined?

How can strategies of image processing and deep learning be combined?

Professor Tomas Sauer holds the Chair of Digital Image Processing. In addition, he heads the Fraunhofer research group 'Knowledge-based Image Processing' at the University of Passau and the Institute for Software Systems in Technical Applications of Computer Science (FORWISS Passau).

What has TRIO achieved in the last few years? What special challenges have there been?

Freitag: With TRIO, the universities in the consortium have established a functional collaboration with the aim of making knowledge and technology transfer in East Bavaria more effective, with greater transparency and better coordination. The exchange of information with the economy has been intensified by visits to enterprises and public events at the universities themselves. A basis on which the needs of the economy can be determined systematically has thus been laid. A kind of "research scouting" has been commenced, aiming to record and understand the range of scientific services that the universities provide. To assist in the comparison of supply and demand for scientific services, a digital "transfer portal" will be available in the near future. Innovation methods have been developed and tested, which can now be used to initiate concrete cooperations. TRIO has developed digital and analogue instruments for scientific communication, including the magazine TRIOLOG and the annual conference TRIOKON, but also many smaller formats. Processes and specimen documents have been agreed among the TRIO universities, and info sheets have been drawn up about possibilities for cooperation.

Given the size of the project and the wide range of tasks and expectations, I am particularly pleased that there has been rapid success in finding a basis for a trustful, productive, multidisciplinary and inter-university discussion of all the aspects of the project and its implementation.

What tasks do you see facing the TRIO project in the years ahead?

Freitag: Well, of course we want to continue to implement our project plan in accordance with the application and the joint transfer strategy of the TRIO universities. We can and should take stock here and now, and carry out a target-performance comparison with the application to make sure we continue to set the right priorities.

I advocate that the TRIO project should now begin to use the instruments, methods and procedures that have been developed itself, in order to gain experience in the concrete negotiation of cooperation projects between science and the economy / society. It may be possible to establish new thematic networks, in which joint research and development are carried on permanently on a given focal topic. The East Bavarian AI Campus, just in the process of being established, could become one of these networks.

And then there is also the option of applying for follow-up funding, so that we can stabilise the results we have achieved and set our sights on new objectives.

Brückenbauer in Sachen Transfer: Der neue und der scheidende wissenschaftliche Leiter von TRIO Prof. Dr. Tomas Sauer und Prof. Dr. Burkhard Freitag. Foto: Universität Passau

Bridge builders for transfer: the new and the retiring scientific director of TRIO, Professor Tomas Sauer and Professor Burkhard Freitag. (f.l.). Foto Credits: University of Passau

Professor Sauer, you will be taking over the scientific leadership of the project in January. What are your motives?

Sauer: Well, basically, I was asked. In TRIO, Professor Freitag has given birth to something that only makes sense if it is pursued sustainably over the term of the project and then continues beyond the moment when he steps over the line into well earned retirement. And transfer has always played an important role for me, in my directorship of FORWISS, in contact with the Fraunhofer Society or in my work as transfer officer during Professor Freitag's presidency. As far as that goes, I am grateful for the trust that has been placed in me. But I will need to learn a great deal first to carry out this new task.

What should TRIO have achieved at the end of the project term?

Sauer: First and foremost, as Professor Freitag has already said, TRIO, like any project, has objectives which are defined in the application and need to be achieved whatever happens. Those, of course, are the ones that need to be worked towards primarily. In the long term, this should lead to sustainable cooperative structures at the participating universities, in which the scientists there have the possibility to initiate and carry out transfer projects, confining themselves to what we just happen to do best: science.

The interview was conducted by Nicola Jacobi.

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