Universitas 21 represented at 2016 Climate Action Summit in Washington DC

Universitas 21 represented at 2016 Climate Action Summit in Washington DC

On 5-6 May 2016, Universitas 21 was represented at the high-level summit, Climate Action 2016 in Washington DC.  Climate Change researchers from 11 of our institutions participated in discussions and panel debates. The summit was preceded by two events.  On 3 May, U21 organised a workshop on North-South relations, focusing on responses to climate change in the light of social justice and the next day,  4 May, the University of Maryland  organised and hosted a one-day public open forum on the role of universities in fighting climate change in which U21 researchers took an active role.

As an important outcome of the workshop, our researchers formulated a letter to the UN Secretary General expressing the willingness and preparedness of U21 to contribute to implementing the post-Paris agenda. On behalf of U21, I had the honour to sign the letter and hand it over to Mr Ban Ki-moon at an informal meeting with him which UMD’s Dean of the School of Public Policy, Dr Robert Orr, had organised.  This informal meeting was also attended by former US Vice-President Al Gore, representatives from our U21 climate change group and a few other academics.  Together we discussed how universities can contribute to the implementation of the post-Paris agenda.

In our letter to Mr Ban, we presented an explicit commitment to sustainability in all its operations: education, research and outreach.   This builds on Sustainability Statement our members jointly signed.

We also invited the United Nations to participate in a two-day U21 conference on migration to be held at the University of Hong Kong in October 2017. This will be an opportunity for academics (and, of course, students) to meet representatives from civil society and governments at all levels to discuss migration from a variety of perspectives, such as climate change, health science, language science, and law. At the meeting, I presented the possibility of linking the Climate Action 2016 and other UN activities in 2016 to the Hong Kong conference.

On behalf of Universitas 21, I would like to thank all the colleagues at the University of Maryland – Professor Wallace Loh, Professor Robert Orr, Dr Nathan Hultman, Dr Anand Patwardhan and the secretariat team as well as Dr Lennart Olsson from Lund University, for their excellent work in organising the U21 Workshop and the Climate Forum.

 

Professor Eva Wiberg

Executive Director, Universitas 21

eva_wiberg_croppurple

Can you manage what you can’t measure?

Can you manage what you can’t measure?

I met recently with a group of senior administrative managers in the United Kingdom at the Spring Conference of AHUA (Association of Heads of University Administration).  Dr Paul Greatrix of Nottingham gave a fascinating overview of their international strategy, focusing both on their development of international campuses and Professor Vince Emery of Surrey shared their experiences in reviewing their international strategy, while I concentrated on building (and maintaining) partnerships through networks.  Using U21 as an exemplar, I concentrated on multi-lateral partnerships, rather than bilateral relations.

I was particularly interested to hear Paul Greatrix’s analysis of Nottingham’s experience in Malaysia and China, and the guiding vision behind this (being a UK conference, a reflection on their UK experience would have been of less interest to the participants).  The contrast with Surrey’s involvement in their joint venture in China as thought-provoking, of course, but of particular interest to me was the similarities and differences with the two universities and the networks of which they are part.

What were the burning issues which those UK heads of administration raised in the lively discussion afterwards?  Luckily, only one person raised how to make money from ‘things international’ with the major part of the discussion being about the multiple benefits which accrue to multiple parts of the university from engaging actively with partners around the glove.  There was some interest in multi-lateral arrangements and recognition that building partnerships, meaningful partnerships that is, of any nature needs a long-term commitment.  To measure the success of an international partnership seemed to fall into the ‘too hard’ box with people resorting to tried and tested metrics, most of them short-term and, in my view, all difficult in themselves due to the lack of clear causality.  We talk about wanting to develop ‘quality’ arrangements with ‘quality’ partners, but fall back on quantity measures as proxy with a narrow year-on-year focus: what is learned from knowing how many students go on semester exchange with a named university in any one year, for instance?

Are quality standards for measuring international engagement the next big thing?  Or shall we revert to an easy, though short-term and flawed approach in the absence of anything better?

Jane Usherwood

Jane Thinking International copy

The open access debate – speaking with one voice?

The open access debate – speaking with one voice?

Recently LERU, (League of European Research Universities) published a statement on open access.  Universities around the world  pay significant parts of their budgets to publishers. If you look into the budgets of European universities the cost is of  hundreds of millions of Euros.

In the era of Open Science, Open Data, Open Access to publications is one of the cornerstones of the new research paradigm, and the business models of the publishers must support this transition. It should be one of the principal objectives of policy makers to ensure that this transition happens. With increasingly tighter budgets within institutions, rising subscription costs and article processing charges, policy makers should make it one of their principal objectives so that reviewed and transparent research is spread to the entire academic world.

I strongly support the LERU initiative and look forward to a transition from traditional subscription models to an Open Access future. Researchers are looking for a change in publishing models and Open Access is swiftly becoming the default way in which research publications are made available to as wide audience as possible.  Many researchers from the European members of U21 have signed to support the LERU statement, as well as Lund University and the Universities of Amsterdam and Edinburgh.  We must make our voices heard.

Eva Wiberg

eva_wiberg_18

Language science and Global Mobility – an event to start an exciting year for Universitas 21!

Language science and Global Mobility – an event to start an exciting year for Universitas 21!

 

It is great to be back after the seasons’ holidays! A new year means new possibilities. From my perspective as Executive Director of Universitas 21 and as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Lund University, a lot of international events are planned, including of a new type. The Workshop on Language Science and Global Mobility will bring together researchers from the broad interdisciplinary field of “Language Science”, with applications in education, technology and health, meeting researchers working with global mobility of populations, including migration, as well as politicians and UN bodies like UNHCR. The event will take place on April 25th and 26th 2016 at the University of Edinburgh.

The workshop has two closely related goals. One involves the internationalisation of research and higher education around Language Science. The Global Research Alliance in Language (GRAIL) with researchers from universities throughout the Universitas 21 network is having a first chance to discuss their work face-to-face. Over the past year these researchers have begun to explore new models for international partnerships under the theme of Language Science. Another goal surrounds the role of language in global mobility of populations, including migration of refugees. The workshop will explore opportunities for language scientists and migration experts to combine forces around this pressing societal issue, working together with policy makers and governmental bodies. An anticipated outcome is a larger public-facing conference in 2017. Look out for more information about the workshop on the events page of www.universitas21.com.

More activities to follow!

eva_wiberg_18

Eva Wiberg

 

Singapore: challenges and opportunities in the Lion City

Singapore: challenges and opportunities in the Lion City

Travelling in Asia has been quite a new experience for me, and I really found it very interesting to meet and talk with people working within research and innovation.

Singapore is a rather small country with only 5 million inhabitants,  but it is a hub in Asia with a strong desire to become a leading centre for research innovation in the world, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The research landscape is complex, and the nation is preparing to head towards a sustainable future with future growth. As the world’s largest harbour and with strong innovative enterprises, research funding agencies such as the National Research Foundation and A*star are investing heavily in order to increase the outcome of research and innovation. Areas of particular strength for Singaporean universities include energy, maritime offshore, sustainable and healthy society.

When speaking with those with an interest in higher education research, the term ‘aging population’ comes up. Economic success means people live longer – and the proportion of the population which needs to be taken care of in their old age rises, with fewer people to do that, people need to work for longer to pay for their old age.. This is of course a challenge for the employment market – and a challenge for education. Research into age related issues is high on the agenda for the government.  There is a new government programme to enhance lifelong learning where 500 Singaporean dollars are saved each year for each person, making it possible for every Singaporean between the age of 25 and 65 to study further.

The Acting Minister of Higher Education, Ong Ye Kung, spoke recently at a conference on technical and vocational education and training (TVET).  HEIs are being encouraged to look at criteria other than grades alone when looking to admit students, in recognition of competencies which exams alone do not measure.  As I know from my time working with the Bologna process in Europe, the recognition and validation of real competencies is quite a challenge and it will be interesting to see how Singapore tackles this. I am impressed by the way Singapore prepares itself for the future society!

 

Eva Wiberg

eva_wiberg_18

Education: more important than ever

Education: more important than ever

On a recent visit to South Africa, I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  It was a harrowing experience in many ways, but also uplifting to see how far that divided society had moved since the darkest days.  There was a special exhibition on the life and impact of Nelson Mandela, and I left that, having bought a postcard with one of his great quotes to keep above my desk: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.  I have had cause to reflect on that lately.

The past days instead called to mind Robert Burns description of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, not only because of the horrific events in Paris, in which so many people lost their lives, but also those in Beirut, Yola, Baghdad, Russian tourists returning from holiday  – the list is long and bloody.  It raises questions in many minds about how this could happen and how we might stop it in future.  Sometimes these questions lead to more ignorance than enlightenment, encouraging fractures between communities, between people.

As a network, Universitas 21 was created to bring people from different backgrounds and approaches together, to learn from and with one another, to apply that learning to the world around us and make it a better place, for us all.  It is inevitable, therefore, that our communities feel a sense of shock and outrage when they hear of mindless suffering and the slaughter of innocents.  That is an understandable human reaction.  But it is not enough.  Condemning the action and empathising with the victim is not enough.  We must do more – we must examine, understand and heal these divisions through education in its widest form.

At the weekend, the city of Coventry, close to where I live, commemorated the 75th anniversary of a major bombing raid by Nazi forces which left much of that medieval city in ruins as well as hundreds dead or severely injured and thousands homeless.  It tested the resolve of the people of that city and of war-torn Britain more widely.  Following the war, the ruined cathedral has become a symbol for reconciliation, with the words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on them the very day after the attack.  At the commemoration, local people were joined with members of all the communities which have made Coventry their home as well as representatives from other cities which also suffered during World War Two, including the city of Dresden, itself so badly bombed by British and US forces.  This concrete example of reconciliation is inspiring in these dark days of mindless terrorism.

This sense of hope, together with  the exhortation of that other great South African, Alan Paton,  that ‘There is only one way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man’, shows a way in which we might rise to the challenge laid down by Mandela, and change the world from its current bloody course.

Jane Usherwood

Jane Thinking International copy

Creating the World One Collision at a Time: How Universities Shape the Future

Creating the World One Collision at a Time: How Universities Shape the Future

How do universities achieve all they do? Are breakthroughs created by lonely geniuses sitting around in attics and laboratories, generating great ideas on their own? Or are they created in business-like fashion by teams working on carefully articulated problems?

Let me suggest a third way – Universities contribute to knowledge that moulds our societies: through collisions of genius, ambition and passion.

The greatest academic physicists and engineers working together on the Manhattan Project. Roger Penrose and a young Steven Hawking working together in Cambridge on the big bang – the origins of the universe. Crick, Watson, Wilkins and Franklin uncovering the double helix of DNA. Professor Graeme Clark and his team in Melbourne inventing the Cochlear implant. The brilliant work of scientists at Howard Florey Laboratories and Bio21.

And it doesn’t just involve science.

Think about the important youthful intellectual movements of the humanities: the Romantic Movement, the Bloomsbury set, even the poets of the Great War. These young, brilliant, ambitious people were thrown together at university but carried on their conversations after graduation. They changed the way we view poetry, literature, art, economics and war. It’s barely possible to think about the most momentous issues facing us today without at least subconscious reference to the intellectual frames they constructed – especially in a world of threatened freedoms, economic uncertainty and military conflict.

These movements came not just from the lecture theaters and laboratories inside universities, but from the nature of universities as places where young people live, love, socialise, compete, make friends and enemies, set their path in life.

While I can’t predict what our great universities will create, or exactly how they create it, we know that the resulting creations are going to be of great benefit to the rest of us. And perhaps absolutely crucial to the very future of nations.

Glyn Davis

glyn-davis-university-of-melbourne copy

South Africa: a state evolving to meet the future

South Africa: a state evolving to meet the future

Just over a week ago I had the privilege to participate in a seminar at the University of Johannesburg that coincided with a meeting of U21’s manager’s group. The seminar focused on how higher education in Southern Africa needs to evolve to meet the needs and challenges the continent is facing.

The seminar gave us insight into how African Universities have shaped society, but also the reverse, how society has influenced and still influences the Universities. The African continent is facing major challenges with a population that is expected to grow from today’s 1.2 to 4.8 billion in two generations. Universities have a crucial role, both in the training of future leaders and in contributing in the effort to solve the challenges that the societies are facing with such a sharp increase in population. The South African school system was mentioned, where there are large gaps in quality, and many students do not finish their secondary education. To conclude the seminar addressed the important changes that the educational systems have to go through in order to bring new groups to begin higher studies.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) is an interesting and instructive example of how the new and modern education system in South Africa is emerging, and how to consciously work towards a positive development.

Meanwhile, discussions on tuition fees have resulted in student uprisings. You have probably followed the news with the hashtags #RhodesMustFall to #FeesMustFall to free HE. And now President Jacob Zuma has announced that tuition fees will not be increased for 2016.

South Africa is a fascinating country. At our visit it was, at least partially, draped in orange and purple. Orange since we were invited to visit the UJ’s “Orange Carpet Reception” where top students and their families were greeted by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ihron Rhensburg, at a reception at which they were given information about the opportunities to study at UJ. All Faculties with their Deans and Senior Managers were present and mingled with the students. Purple since the whole town was full of purple jacarandas in full bloom!

Thank you so much, University of Johannesburg, for your kind hospitality!

Eva Wiberg

eva_wiberg_18

強い一緒に 日本の大学の考察: Reflections on Japanese universities

強い一緒に 日本の大学の考察: Reflections on Japanese universities

I recently attended  the Science and Technology Forum in Kyoto, Japan, and since returning to Sweden, I have been reflecting on the changes which higher education in that country is going through at the moment.

My thoughts have been guided by the really useful discussions I had with the presidents of leading Japanese universities, including Waseda, Keio and the University of Tokyo, as well as what I heard at the Science and Technology Forum.  The high level discussions at the formal parts of the Forum were followed by more informal meetings, which is often the best way of making things move forward.

The Ministry of Research and Education (MEXT) that Japan is certain that there is room to improve Japan’s international standing in certain fields and is setting clear targets for the internationalisation of academic work, both for research and education.   These incentives open up opportunities for members of U21 to build on their existing links with the 13 universities identified by MEXT as having the greatest potential for internationalisation.  On the research front, Japan has been very successful – the award of Nobel Prizes in recent years points to that – but there is clearly room for improvement perceived elsewhere and MEXT is targeting places in the top 100 of university league tables as signs of success.

The focus of discussion at the Forum was about science and technology of course, given its topic of the Forum, so I didn’t have the opportunity to hear reaction to recent announcements by some universities in Japan that they are cutting or downsizing humanities and social sciences departments.  This is said to be, in part, a result of education minister Hakuban Shimomura urging the country’s higher education institutions to offer a “more practical, vocational education that better anticipates the needs of society”.

As a professor in humanities myself, I would argue that the best response to the challenges that our world faces are most likely to result from investigation of issues from a multilateral, pluralist perspective rather than relying on only one view, or only one academic discipline to find the answer.  The problems we are dealing with in the 21st century are increasingly complex, and require detailed consideration from all angles to save us from either reproducing problems of the past, or creating new (and often unintended) problems for the future.  I welcome the opportunity to work more closely with colleagues in Japan, and I welcome the approach of MEXT and others to support that.  By working in collaboration between nations, we should not lose sight of the real advantages of collaboration between disciplines as well.

Eva Wiberg

eva_wiberg_18

Knowledge with conscience: university research as a critical friend

Knowledge with conscience: university research as a critical friend

We are living in a globalised society coping with global challenges that change rapidly.  Universities all over the world try to analyse these in order to prepare coming generations for the future.

With its 25 members, the world’s most globalised network, Universitas 21 (U21), is well placed to tackle questions raised by climate change, infectious diseases, mega cities, and so forth.  Our network has recently agreed to focus its work under the theme Future societies, setting the path for action across the range of our activities for students and staff with events, workshops, etc.

For the first time I attended the Science and Technology Forum in Kyoto, Japan this week. The meeting was an interesting mixture of people from all continents, ranging from government ministers, university presidents, researchers, funding agencies, NGOs, and so forth.  We met to discuss themes relating to science and technology in a broad sense.  Not surprisingly, issues relating to climate change, smart cities and gender issues were the subject of much discussion.

The meeting was opened by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who pressed for international standardization in relation to technology.  I was most impressed by French Prime minister Manuel Valls, who quoted Rabelais when he said “knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul”.  He said this in relation to global warming, where he felt that the world was in danger if no action was taken.  He pointed at the important 2015 conference in Paris later this year where 60 countries are expected to sign up to   goals, but where there is not yet a binding universal agreement.  Although researchers have raised the issues, the solutions lie with all of us.

Torsten Wiesel, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1981, also spoke at the meeting, asking  how universities could better engage with policy makers and others by doing a better, more critical job   to address areas such as climate change, health, sustainability.  Wiesel also pointed out that the responsibility to provide skills for tackling these problems lies with universities.

Meeting with representatives from our U21 partners, such as Mc Gill, Tecnológico deMonterrey, and Johannesburg meant very much to me. Recognising a fellow member from U21  enabled me, as Executive Director, to discuss further collaborations. More on this is to follow!

While in Japan I took the opportunity to meet with colleagues from Waseda University,   Keio University, and, last but not least, the University of Tokyo.  I was there on the very day that the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to  Professor Takaaki Kajita, together with Professor Arthur Donald from Canada, for their work on neutrinos  Exciting!  This was the second Nobel Prize awarded to a Japanese scientist in as many days, showing the real strength the country has in science.  Congratulations to all Nobel Prize winners, from wherever they come.

Eva Wiberg

eva_wiberg_18