In a year of extraordinary challenges our impact as a global network of connected universities has never been more important. Here we outline our key areas of impact and highlight some of our achievements over the past 12 months.
Direct Funding to members
The U21 Network responded fast to the clear need for direct funding to member institutions. Highlighted below are two of the most substantial areas in which we were able to provide financial support and create the biggest impact for all our members.
The U21 Global Education Enhancement Fund
The worldwide university campus closures at the start of the pandemic, saw major and rapid changes to university teaching and learning. The U21 Global Education Enhancement Fund supported members to deliver and enhance online education for a rapidly changing and uncertain future. US$110,000 was made available to fund partnerships of two or more U21 member universities, to design better solutions for online teaching, learning and assessment. Thirteen U21 members from ten countries were awarded funds to support students navigate their way through a very changed higher education landscape. More details here.
Researcher Resilience Fund
U21’s Researcher Resilience Fund was launched to support the network’s PhDs and early career researchers who were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. This fund was designed to develop researchers' capability and capacity to work digitally or virtually in order to adapt to life as a researcher post-COVID-19. Twenty-one projects, to the value of over $100,000 across 89% of the U21 membership, were selected to enable researchers in the U21 network to create a suite of resources to be shared among researchers in the wider U21 network over the course of the following 12 months.
Events transformed into new opportunities
As the full scale of the pandemic unfolded, U21 adapted its processes to embrace a new digital age. Key events in the U21 calendar turned digital such as the AGM, Educational Symposium and the Early Careers Workshop.
U21’s AGM & Presidential Meetings
The University of Zurich transformed planned face-to-face meetings and symposia under the title ‘Sustainable Universities; Sustainable University Networks’ into highly successful online events visited by over 1,000 people.
Among the events hosted by the university was an online keynote address from world renown climate expert, Professor Thomas Stocker on the topic of 'Climate Change: Have Science and Education Failed? '
An online poster exhibition of sustainability projects from around the network also showcased members’ projects focused on the UN Sustainable development Goals.
In the past year, many universities have seen a rapid move online of their teaching and student support, alongside students being unable to study abroad, creating large-scale online delivery of teaching, learning, preparation for employment and internationalisation opportunities. The U21 Symposium challenged participants to work together to explore how best to motivate students to engage with an increasingly virtual university; consider the challenges of online student engagement, and the implications for student learning, employability, internationalisation and virtual exchanges. Considerably oversubscribed, this event will be repeated in February 2021.
Early Career Researcher Workshop
The 2020 Early Career Researcher (ECR) Workshop ‘Modern Slavery, Forced Labour and Human Trafficking’ was hosted by University of Nottingham's Researcher Academy and the Rights Lab. The virtual workshop marked the UN’s International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The focus of this day each year, 2 December, is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery. The workshop also marked the moment when the global community entered the Decade of Delivery for the seventeen UN Sustainable Delivery Goals (SDGs), with only 10 years left to achieve the goals by the end of 2030.
With the impossibility of meeting face-to-face in 2020, U21 has designed and delivered a trio of online learning experiences for both students and staff - U21 Global Citizenship, U21 Global Connections and U21 Global Leadership. These events have greatly increased the network’s range and scope, allowing U21 to reach significantly more students and staff across the network, and increase their engagement with U21.
U21 Global Connections
At a time when students could not travel, the newly launched Global Connections scheme gave U21 students the opportunity to create international connections without leaving their own country. Students applied to the scheme and were then matched with a small group of other students from across the network. Once connected the students themselves decided how best to keep the lines of communication open and what they want to discuss. Delivered in partnership with Common Purpose.
980 students from 19 U21 institutions (representing 106 nationalities) participated in the first two rounds of this project in 2020.
U21 Global Citizenship
With over 1,500 students participating, and 1,100 completing the course to gain the associated micro-credential, Global Citizenship 2020 was the largest student programme ever offered by U21 to date. The three-week online course, delivered in partnership with Common Purpose, prepared students to be global leaders taking decisive action to further the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The course proved very popular, with students from all U21 member universities being represented in the first cohort. A stand out moment for many students was the opportunity to meet live with their peers during weekly Zoom calls.
On one of the four calls, over 500 students were present to reflect on their learning and discuss the SDGs. Participants reported an increase awareness of SDGs as well as feeling more connected to U21 students around the world.
U21 Global Leadership
At a time of great change and uncertainty for higher education globally, U21 brought together eighty emerging university leaders from member institutions across the world. Over three weeks, these participants worked on a range of interactive content prepared by experts in U21 and beyond higher education, delivered in partnership with Common Purpose. The course focussed on two key themes: Thriving in Ambiguity and Complexity and (Building) Resilience in a Rapidly Changing World.