responsible for implementing the communication and dissemination activities in SMART4FUTURE – conducted a series of interviews with the project partners.

Introducing LINKgroup, the founder of two higher education institutions – the Information Technology School (ITS) and the Faculty of ContemporaryArts (FCA). ITS is the first accredited private higher education institution in the field of information technology in Serbia. In addition to providing quality in the sense of excellent study conditions, state-of-the-art equipment, and highly trained personnel, ITS prepares 2,000 students to become information technology professionals. The FCA is a faculty of performing and applied arts, offering accredited study programs with a focus on training artists and art managers. It provides undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies in contemporary arts.

Thank you Prof. Valentin Kuleto and Prof. Dragan Ćalović for this opportunity to meet and discuss the SMART4FUTURE project. To begin, could you please provide a short introduction to LINKgroup and your role within the company?

LINK Educational Alliance (LEA), a large company operating in the field of education, comprises over 40 organizations in the Balkan region, as well as in the USA, specializing in formal, nonformal and informal education. With 25 years of experience in IT and contemporary business, LEA can be regarded as an EDUTech cluster in this part of Europe. We have established our educational hubs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Moldova, and the USA.

LINKgroup is the founder of 11 educational institutions ranging from levels 1 to 8 on the European Qualifications Framework. Additionally, we have established two higher education institutions: The Information Technology School and the Faculty of Contemporary Arts. The LINK Education Alliance (LEA) has a workforce of over 750 individuals, including 360 educators and professors, and we currently serve 4,750 students from primary to higher education. For further information, our educational services and institutions are listed for reference.

For someone who is still not familiar with the SMART4FUTURE project, how would you describe it in simple terms, and how do you distinguish it from other projects or initiatives?

SMART4FUTURE is an exciting project that we are proud to be a part of. In simple terms, it’s all about preparing higher education institutions (HEIs) and students for the rapidly changing technological landscape and the challenges it brings.

What sets SMART4FUTURE apart from other projects is our focus on creating smart innovation ecosystems. We firmly believe that by combining cutting-edge technology with innovative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, we can empower students to navigate this changing landscape with confidence.

Our goal is to equip HEIs with the necessary tools and support systems to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among students. We aim to provide mentoring, training, and resources to help students turn their expertise into tangible value for society. By building strong partnerships and collaborations, we strive to create an environment where students can actively participate in the transformative power of technology.

Through SMART4FUTURE, we will support startups, train and mentor students, academic and non-academic staff, and create valuable partnerships.

SMART4FUTURE is not just about adapting to the technological revolution; it is about embracing it and harnessing its potential for the benefit of students, higher education institutions, and society as a whole. Together, we are shaping a future where innovation and entrepreneurship are at the core of higher education.

LINKgroup is the leader in reaching out and networking for knowledge triangle integration. This means that you will manage the contributions of HEIs on the innovation and support needs in respective ecosystems. Could you tell us more about the process and the main outcomes?

As a leader in reaching out and networking for knowledge triangle integration, LINKgroup fosters collaboration between higher education institutions (HEIs), private businesses, and public sector organizations.

Our focus is on managing the contributions of higher education institutions (HEIs) in addressing innovation needs and providing support in relevant ecosystems. The process involves several key steps.

First, we identify the needs and goals of each participant in the knowledge triangle: HEIs, private companies, and public sector organizations. Then, we facilitate partnerships and collaboration among these entities.

One example of our practice that we bring to the project is CCD – the Center for Career Development. CCD is a platform that provides support to students in their professional development and connects them with potential employers. Through CCD, we provide students with access to various resources, tools, and mentorship to help them successfully develop their careers.

Additionally, we have Link2Job, an initiative that connects students with employers. Link2Job organizes job fairs and career events to provide students with an opportunity to meet potential employers, explore employment options, and gain insights into the job market.

As a result of our work, we expect several key outcomes. First, we expect an increased collaboration between HEIs, private companies, and public sector organizations, leading to a more effective transfer of knowledge and technology. Secondly, improved innovation and competitiveness in local ecosystems, as organizations can leverage their strengths and collaborate on projects and initiatives that promote economic growth and job creation. Furthermore, we expect enhanced education and training opportunities for students and professionals, as they will be exposed to the practical application of scientific and technological concepts. Lastly, we anticipate greater awareness of the importance of knowledge triangle integration and its benefits for regional development, leading to increased investment and support for these initiatives in the future.

LINKgroup will deploy all HEI capacity-building activities of the project. Being the founder of two HEIs – Information Technology School and Faculty of Contemporary Arts – how will SMART4FUTURE benefit from your experience and stakeholder engagement capacity on such activities?

As the founder of two higher education institutions, we are thrilled to bring our experience and stakeholder engagement capacity to SMART4FUTURE. This project will greatly benefit from our expertise in implementing capacity-building activities in higher education.

Through years of establishing and managing successful higher education institutions, we have gained invaluable insights into the specific needs and challenges faced by educational institutions. We possess a deep understanding of the dynamics of the educational environment, curriculum development, student support, and industry partnerships. This profound knowledge will be instrumental in designing and implementing effective capacity-building activities within the SMART4FUTURE project.

Our strong capacity for stakeholder engagement allows us to foster fruitful collaborations with various partners, including other higher education institutions, private companies, and public sector organizations. We have built robust relationships with industry leaders, experts, and professionals, enabling us to form significant partnerships and networks. These collaborations will enhance the relevance and applicability of capacity-building activities, ensuring they meet the evolving demands of the industry and the labor market.

In addition to our expertise, we are proud to introduce specific practices that have proven successful within our institutions. One example is the Center for Career Development (CCD) which provides comprehensive support to students and connects them with potential employers. We also have Link2Job which organizes job fairs and career events for students to interact with employers and explore diverse employment options. Our Unique Student Theatre project fosters artistic expression and creativity, while the LINK Mentorship Support Program provides students with guidance and support from experienced mentors.

What are you personally most enthusiastic about achieving during the SMART4FUTURE project?

One of my main goals is to see our students actively engaging in the powerful deep tech transformation. We want them to feel equipped with the necessary skills and mindset to not only adapt to technological advancements but also to actively shape the future through innovative solutions and entrepreneurial endeavors. By providing them with the right tools, mentoring, and support, I believe we can unlock their full potential and foster a generation of resilient and forward-thinking professionals.

We are passionate about establishing strong partnerships and collaborations within our local and regional innovation ecosystems. Through these connections, we can create a vibrant and dynamic environment where knowledge exchange, idea generation, and interdisciplinary collaborations thrive. We envision a future where our HEIs serve as catalysts for innovation, driving economic growth and societal progress.

We are also thrilled about the prospect of witnessing our students’ personal and professional growth, as they become agents of change and contribute to building a smarter and more sustainable future. SMART4FUTURE provides us with a platform to make a lasting impact, and we are fully committed to making the most of this opportunity.

How do you see the project’s legacy regarding achievements and collaboration among partners in SMART4FUTURE at regional, national, and European levels?

We are enthusiastic about the potential project legacy in terms of achievements and collaboration among partners in SMART4FUTURE, not only at the regional and national levels but also at a broader European level. This project has the potential to create a lasting impact and transform the landscape of higher education, innovation, and regional development.

The legacy of the project lies in long-lasting partnerships, improved knowledge transfer, and the development of skilled graduates who are equipped to tackle future challenges and contribute to regional, national, and European growth and development.

Through our active participation and the practices, we bring to the project, such as CCD – Center for Career Development, Link2Job, Unique Student Theatre, and LINK Mentorship Support Program, our goal is to foster strong collaboration among different stakeholders. We aim to create sustainable partnerships and networks that will continue to thrive even after the project is completed.

At the regional level, we expect SMART4FUTURE to encourage closer cooperation between higher education institutions, private companies, and public sector organizations. This collaboration will result in more effective knowledge transfer, improved innovation, and increased competitiveness within local ecosystems.

At the national level, the project’s achievements will contribute to overall progress in higher education, economic growth, and job creation. By bridging the gap between the academic community and the industry through initiatives like Link2Job, students will have better access to employment opportunities and gain valuable insights into the job market.

Furthermore, at the European level, SMART4FUTURE can serve as a model for successful knowledge triangle integration and capacity-building in higher education. The lessons learned and best practices shared within the project can inspire and guide similar initiatives across Europe, promoting collaboration and innovation on a larger scale.

No doubt there will be some readers who are eager to meet you and talk about this project and your experience. At which events will it be possible to meet LINKgroup in the upcoming months?

You can meet LINKgroup at the Link2Job job fair, which will be held from December 1st  to December 5th . This event will also include a boot camp and a hackathon focused on deep technologies. Attending the Link2Job job fair will provide an opportunity to interact with LINKgroup representatives, discuss their projects and experiences, and explore potential collaborations. For further details and to stay updated on any additional events where LINNKgroup may be present in the upcoming months, I recommend visiting the official Link2Job website or contacting LINKgroup directly for accurate and timely information.

Prof. dr Valentin Kuleto

LINKgroup President and Principal of Information Technology School – ITS

Prof. dr Dragan Ćalović

Dean of the Faculty of Contemporary Arts – FCA

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