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At first glance, seven-year old children and the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) do only seem to make for a numerical match. But there is a lot more that unites them: the European Commission will back the formation of a European network of children’s universities called EUCUNET – the European Children’s University Network, and funding will be provided through the very FP7. According to a statement from the Commission, the project of getting young children interested in science and research at the earliest possible age will receive a total of EUR 550 000 over the next two years.
Children's universities have sprung up in the last 6 years in some European countries (e.g. in Germany, Austria, Slowakia), at present their number amounts to more than 100. The motivations may vary by country and institution: some of them were founded in the wake of the PISA shock, others developed from a single event into a continuous effort. The University of Innsbruck, for instance, in 2001 presumably the first to charter the new waters of science for kids, had not expected that celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Ötzi the Iceman” with school children would stir enough enthusiasm to turn into a permanent endeavor of bringing science to the youngest. In all cases, however, the basic intention is to counteract a falling interest in science and research among students and to widen academic participation across various sectors of the population.
EUCUNET is to create a database of activities which have been or are being undertaken in Europe in the area of children’s universities. Building on this, an interactive web portal and a series of international symposia will be initiated. These are hoped to stimulate the transfer of know-how and the exchange of existing expertise as well as to introduce the concept of children’s universities to other European countries.