U21 Timeline

Key milestones for the Universitas 21 network


In 1997, a group of like-minded, research-intensive universities came together in Melbourne, Australia, to form Universitas 21. Together, these 11 universities shared a vision to create a leading international network that would enable research excellence, foster collaboration across cultures, and engage staff and students in global mobility opportunities. 

U21 now comprises 29 leading universities from over 18 nations that span 6 continents, with over 1 million students and 200,000 staff members. Looking forward, we will continue to advocate the universal benefits of inclusive, multi-national collaboration and build on what has been achieved, together, over the last 24 years. U21's founding shared vision of 'promoting internationalisation across higher education' is still pertinent, coherent and ever more relevant today.

  • 2020s

  • 2021

    Professor Jenny Dixon becomes Provost of U21, and Professor Eng Chye Tan takes up the post of Chair. A new and exciting strategy is formed to reflect the changes that were accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to reflect the needs of our members, many of whom are still unable to travel. U21 becomes digital by choice, continuing with our hugely successful virtual meetings and online programmes. Global Student is launched, a new pathway programme to bring together all of our student opportunities, and U21 win the Sustainability International Impact Award at the PIEoneer Awards for these programmes. 

  • 2020

    2020 was a year like no other, when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, and changed the world and the way our members operated, almost overnight. U21 worked hard to amend and adapt their activities, bringing events such as the AGM/ANM and Educational Symposium online, as well as our Presidents, Senior Leaders and Cluster Group meetings. New projects were launched, such as the virtual student mobility projects Global Connections and Global Citizenship, and the Global Leadership course, supporting aspiring leaders within our membership. Despite the challenges, 2020 was the year in which we engaged directly with more of our members than ever before. 

  • 2010s

  • 2019

    RISE (Real Impact on Society and Environment) is launched; an international showcase of student achievement in sustainability and social innovation designed to accelerate the scale and impact of student-led projects by connecting them with a network of experts in academia and industry.

  • 2018

    U21 celebrated its 21st birthday launching the U21@21 award to mark its 21st anniversary. The award offered funding to 8 projects which demonstrated the value of Universitas 21 as it seeks to encourages innovative cross-university collaboration.

  • 2017

    U21 announces global collaboration with PwC. The first joint initiative will be the U21 / PwC Innovation Challenge which will create mutually beneficial links between U21’s global student groups and PwC’s top clients across its international network of companies.

  • 2016

    U21 Shared Online Course launched. First wholly online course developed collaboratively by several U21 institutions and delivered solely to students of member institutions.

  • 2015

    Global Ingenuity Challenge runs for the first time. It is a contest designed to highlight the value of collaborative problem solving for undergraduate students and has grown in strength and numbers each consecutive year.

  • 2013

    Approval of first ever set of programmatic plans for the three Clusters - Educational Innovation. Student Experience and Researcher Engagement. These plans spanned a five year period and have been updated and revised to present to Presidents for approval at the 2018 AGM. 

    3MT® Competition launched. Adapted for U21 Ph.D. students from a model copyrighted by UQ, continues today as one of the most successful and recognized initiatives in the RE cluster for its impact on researchers in the early stages of their career.

  • 2012

    Gilbert Medal awarded for first time. Honours the vision of the late Professor Alan Gilbert and celebrates some of the core objectives of the Universitas 21 network, namely to increase understanding, trust and partnership between international universities; enhance teaching, learning and research across physical boundaries; and strengthen collaboration between like-minded universities across the world.

    U21 Awards conferred for the first time to recognize significant contributions to internationalization of higher education by a member of staff within a U21 institution.

    U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems report released for the first time, which assesses national systems of higher education as opposed to individual institutions. It is a highly valued report which continues to influence organisations, governments and policy makers around the globe.

  • 2011

    Early Career Researcher Conference held for first time. Further opportunity to enhance and support U21 researchers in the early stages of their career.

  • 2010

    Dehli Accord on Student Mobility was signed by all members. This updated numbers and reinforced commitments stated in the Shanghai Declaration on Student Mobility.

    U21 gains UN Consultative Status – U21 gains UN recognition of special competence in the field of Higher Education and is recognized for its engagement with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.



  • 2008

    First U21 Teaching and Learning Network Conference held. Continues to be an annual flagship event, now known as the Educational Innovation Symposium.

    Graduate Research Conference held for first time. Represented continued network commitment to enhancing the graduate student experience.

  • 2005

    First Undergraduate Research Conference was held. Unique opportunity for undergraduate students to strengthen their research presentation skills.

    Shanghai Declaration on Student Mobility was signed by all members, signaling even greater collaboration on and commitment to the U21 student experience.

  • 2004

    First U21 Summer School held at Lund. Unique short term mobility opportunity for students from all U21 member institutions to engage in an intensive two-week programme.

  • 2002

    Research Leaders formed to take forward U21’s focus on the development of Early Career Researchers. A number of other significant initiatives have been launched since the formation of this group and several are detailed above.

  • 2001

    Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies (DDoGs) formed; remain one of our most active collaborative groups providing and overseeing graduate student opportunities.

  • 2000

    Student Mobility Officers Group formed

    Health Sciences Group formed

    Deans of Education group formed

    All groups remain active and meet annually in order to share best practice and create collaborative opportunities for U21 students, staff, practitioners and researchers.



  • 1997

    Universitas 21 (the network, not the company), a new international association of broad-based, research-intensive universities was established at a meeting of VCs and Presidents in Melbourne. The underlying idea, still guiding the network today, is that '...an association of kindred institutions has immense potential to empower, improve and secure international opportunities and positioning for the participating institution'.