Group of three people standing
University of Birmingham Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Tickell welcomes U21 Provost Professor Jenny Dixon and U21 President Professor Eng Chye Tan to Birmingham

Life changing student experiences within refugee camps, the future impact of Artificial Intelligence and young people working together to tackle UN Sustainable Development Goals, were some of the themes inspiring delegates at the U21 Annual General Meeting and Presidential Symposium taking place at the University of Birmingham.

U21 is a unique global network that brings together world-leading, research-intensive universities with a common belief in the value of collaboration and internationalisation. 

As a founding member of U21, we are particularly proud to welcome academics, professional staff and students from around the world to our beautiful Birmingham campus to celebrate the 25th anniversary of U21 and host the network’s Presidential Symposium and Annual General Meeting.

University of Birmingham Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Adam Tickell

From China to Chile, South Korea to the United States, U21 is a global network of over a million students and more than 200,000 staff – representing 28 universities, including its latest member The University of Sydney.

University of Birmingham Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Adam Tickell said: “As a founding member of U21, we are particularly proud to welcome academics, professional staff and students from around the world to our beautiful Birmingham campus to celebrate the 25th anniversary of U21 and host the network’s Presidential Symposium and Annual General Meeting.

“The network brings together leading global universities to further improve the student experience and help researchers better engage with each other, whilst creating innovative educational opportunities. This event and the symposium, in particular, provided a valuable opportunity to reflect on how knowledge, ideas, and opportunities within the U21 network will help our global community of students build a better future.”

A keynote speech from Oxfam CEO Dr Danny Sriskandarajah on the theme of ‘The Leaders of The Future’ opened the Symposium, before delegates listened to a range of case studies from U21 member universities.

Case studies from U21 member universities

  • Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) - Student leaders taking part in new international mobility opportunities across ‘non-traditional’ destinations in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
  • University of Edinburgh - An ideas lab allowing students to collaboratively tackle real-world challenges linked to UN Sustainable Development Goals - covering issues such as fashion overconsumption, youth homelessness, and supporting refugees.
  • University of Hong Kong- Students performing eight-week summer internships teaching English at migrant schools and within refugee camps in Myanmar and other parts of Asia - surviving Covid and recent political unrest by moving online.
  • University of Johannesburg- Online education on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Fourth Industrial Revolution introducing students and the public to AI, its applications, and implications for society and the future of work

The case studies provoked a lot of discussion with symposium delegates debating many topics, including:

  • How do hybrid and blended teaching change our understanding of learning?
  • What is the future of work for this generation of students?
  • What future skills will our students need to be leaders?

U21 Provost Professor Jenny Dixon said: “The theme of this year’s AGM is ‘The Leaders of the Future’ – that’s especially significant as the world continues to battle the pandemic, address issues of sustainability, and tackle the impacts of climate change. All critically pertinent to the next generation of young leaders, who are passionate about the future of humanity."

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Universitas 21 (U21) is a global network of world-leading, research-intensive universities. Our member-led initiatives and programmes are designed to inform and assist the development of our staff and students. We empower our members to collaborate, exchange knowledge and enhance their ability to work in partnership with their wider communities. By connecting people across borders and cultures, U21 enables our members to achieve more together.  

U21 Presidential Symposium 2022: Case Studies

Renewed Mobility for New Global Leaders

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) Chile

Presented by: Mr Cristian Diaz and Dr Lilian Ferrer (both attending in person)

International education opportunities were limited for all students during the pandemic. To confront the increasing inequity made evident during this time, the UC Vice-Presidency for International Affairs has widened access to international mobility experiences to prepare new global leaders. 20 student leaders will actively take part in two new international mobility opportunities in 2022, with plans to double this number within a year.

The first is the Pallqa Programme, which promotes community-based international co-operation initiatives with partners in non-traditional destinations: Latin America, Asia and Africa. Participating students volunteer with local NGOs, aligned with the university's mission. The second is the Equity Track for students with disabilities. This programme resulted in three main improvements: a universally accessible application process, access to special education services and adjusted selection criteria, designed to include students with disabilities.

 

Students as Change Agents

University of Edinburgh

Presented by: Ms Ruth Donnelly and Mr Al Lawley-Powell (both attending in person)

Students as Change Agents (SACHA) is a co-curricular experiential idea lab that allows students to collaboratively tackle real-world challenges linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Created in 2019 by the University of Edinburgh Careers Service and hosted within the Data Driven Innovation programme, SACHA is now at the heart of undergraduate curriculum transformation.

Taking on challenges set by external partners, students join multi-disciplinary groups and generate real-world solutions.  SACHA currently has 18 different industry, charity and intergovernmental partners who set challenges covering issues such as fashion overconsumption, fuel poverty, sustainable tourism, youth homelessness, and supporting refugees.

Students are supported with weekly coaching and a skills development programme covering team dynamics, understanding data and design thinking.  Satisfaction rates are high at 98.5% and the programme has scaled up from 183 students in 2019-20, to 237 in 2020-21.  

The University’s vision states that “Our graduates, and the knowledge we discover with our partners, make the world a better place.” SACHA is a prime example of this vision in action.  

 

Leading through cross-cultural engagement with marginalized peoples

University of Hong Kong

Presented by: Professor Ian Holliday and Mr Patrick Desloge (via video)

Moei began in 2007 on the Thai-Myanmar border, where tens of thousands of refugees live in camps and countless others are displaced. Hong Kong University (HKU) students performed 8-week summer internships teaching English at migrant schools and within refugee camps. Locations and partners have changed over the years but one thing stays the same - students engage in

meaningful learning by driving social impact. They live and worked in remote villages and monasteries or in dormitories with their students. They learn, grow and become leaders by overcoming the uncertainty of being immersed in a different culture in the developing world.

Many students describe the experience as life-changing and often it has been a catalyst for student-led social impact initiatives. Over the years Moei moved to other parts of Asia but it was among communities of learners from Myanmar, mostly ethnic minorities, that the ties have continued to grow, even surviving Covid and recent political unrest by moving online. Never has the need been greater to support and learn from these marginalized people who, like the students of HKU, have persevered in their effort to seize the opportunity to learn and teach. The project has achieved outstanding leadership outcomes for over 15 years and is ready to scale up in the 2020s.

 

Artificial Intelligence in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (AI in the 4IR)

University of Johannesburg

Presented by: Ms Hemali Joshi and Professor Ylva Rodny-Gumede (both attending in person)

In February 2020, the University of Johannesburg rolled out the online module: Artificial Intelligence in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (AI in the 4IR). This is a self-paced, 15-credit module, available to all UJ all staff and students. It introduces students to artificial intelligence (AI), its applications, and its implications for society and the future of work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). A digital certificate is issued upon successful completion of the AI in the 4IR module and for current students, is reflected at the top of their academic transcripts. In September 2021, UJ extended this initiative by offering the module to the public, leading to participation by people from varied geographic locations and diverse backgrounds. One such initiative is a collaboration between UJ and the Department of Basic Education to offer this course to unemployed young people on the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative. Each participant who successfully completes the module receives a digital certificate acknowledging their completion of the module.