In the autumn semester of 2023, University of Latvia (UL), TED University (TEDU) and Czech Lifes Sciences University in Prague (CZU) started preparations for implementation of the vertically integrated project (VIP) approach under the methodological guidance of Riga Stradiņš University.

A Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) is an educational model that involves integrating undergraduate, graduate and PhD students into long-term, large-scale research and development projects led by faculty members. The goal is to create a collaborative learning experience for students while addressing real-world challenges. Students gain research experience by joining ongoing projects while returning students develop leadership skills through onboarding new members. Long-term student involvement is crucial for team success. The multi-disciplinary nature of VIP programmes fosters collaboration across diverse skills for research. The core of VIP's success is connected to mutual interest between students and faculty, ensuring active engagement and scalability.

The VIP initiative aligns seamlessly with the strategic vision of TEDU, emphasizing a practical and hands-on approach to education. This visionary concept aims to provide students with immersive experiences in research, transcending theoretical frameworks and delving into the realm of experiential learning. The central goal is to enhance students' practical understanding and application of knowledge, fostering a dynamic learning environment that goes beyond traditional academic paradigms.

At the core of TEDU's VIP initiative is the integration of industries and external organizations. This strategic move is intended to expose students to real-world challenges and intricacies prevalent in various sectors. By forging partnerships with industry leaders and other organizations, TEDU aims to bridge the gap between academia and practical business issues. This collaborative approach allows students to gain insights into the complexities of the professional world, cultivating a nuanced understanding of the problems and challenges faced by businesses.

The integration of industries not only enriches the academic experience for students but also serves as a catalyst for the development of essential teamwork skills. Recognizing the importance of effective collaboration in today's interconnected world, TEDU places a strong emphasis on enhancing students' ability to work cohesively within a team setting. Two key facets of teamwork are highlighted in this process: communication skills and critical thinking. TEDU's VIP initiative stands as an innovative education, fostering an experiential learning environment for students. By seamlessly integrating industries and emphasizing the development of teamwork skills, particularly communication and critical thinking, TEDU ensures that students are not only academically proficient but also well-prepared for the challenges of the professional world.

UL has carefully chosen the VIP experts – academic staff members who have deep research interests and are actively engaging students across various academic levels. These experts contribute to multidisciplinary themes such as human factors and ergonomics occupational health and safety, work environmental protection business efficiency and human resource management. Multidisciplinarity in student teams will ensure convergence of diverse perspectives and expertise to address complex challenges. The selected VIP experts play pivotal roles in multiple study programmes, fostering interdisciplinary connections.

The process UL plans to employ for selecting students for the VIP emphasize both the alignment of their interests with the chosen VIP theme and their individual motivation. If necessary, the VIP theme might be split into sub-themes. This approach ensures students' justification of interest and connection with the VIP research topic. The motivation enables the VIP expert to make knowledgeable decisions on the student’s admission to the VIP team, resulting in a well-matched, multidisciplinary, and motivated group for the VIP research project.

The VIP initiative at UL presents not only as an educational direction but also acts as a catalyst for collaborative, multidisciplinary research in ergonomics. By integrating students at various levels into the VIP pilot project, the UL ensures a dynamic learning environment. Importantly, the VIP framework serves as a platform for future research leads, providing a basis for seeking external funding and further contributing to the UL academic and research excellence.

CZU is currently planning the implementation of the VIP approach. The VIP approach reflects CZU's commitment to enriching the academic experience, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and providing students with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities. CZU envisions launching a piloted VIP programme in May 2024. CZU has successfully completed the VIP engagement and information phase for faculty members. This milestone signifies a crucial step in the implementation of VIP at CZU. By providing the faculty members with the necessary information and engaging them in the VIP process, CZU is fostering a collaborative and informed environment. This achievement indicates CZU's commitment to ensuring that faculty members are well-prepared and equipped with the information needed for a seamless integration of VIP into the academic landscape. The engagement phase involved communicating the goals, benefits, and expectations associated with VIP. The planning phase, set to initiate in the December 2023, will involve curriculum development, finalize the faculty engagement, and set the criteria for establishment of interdisciplinary teams. The programme's interdisciplinary nature and focus on real-world problem-solving align with CZU's mission to address contemporary challenges in agricultural, environmental, and life sciences.