May 26, 2017, by David Greenaway

Universitas 21 Annual Meetings

Universitas 21 (U21) was established in 1997, with Nottingham as one of the founding Members. Twenty years on it is still going strong, with 25 research intensive Universities from 17 different countries.

This month Nottingham was host for the 2017 Annual Meetings, just the second occasion these meetings have been held in the United Kingdom. All 25 Members brought delegations, with 16 being led by their President / Vice-Chancellor.

As there should be, there is always formal business to be conducted; agreeing budgets, network plans, reports from the Chair and Provost, as well as the formal admission of two new Members: Waseda University, and the University of Zurich. But the real value comes from the annual symposium, discussion of network activities, and peer to peer networking.

The theme for this year’s symposium was ‘Universities as Anchor Institutions’.

The economic value of Universities as drivers of growth is increasingly recognized the world over; so too is their role in building social capital and creating cultural capital.

But are we doing enough?

That was essentially the challenge posed by the keynote speaker Sir Andrew Witty, our Chancellor. In a rich, expansive and penetrating analysis he laid out a call to action to our Universities to do more to enrich the communities in which we are embedded.

Sir Andrew’s presentation was complemented by a series of case studies of University partnerships.

The University of Amsterdam focused on its connected campuses and their impact on the City; Glasgow University set out its role in the redevelopment of Kelvin Hall, a major civic asset; the University of Maryland told the story of how it had driven the regeneration of College Park; the University of Queensland’s case study was its important work with the Port of Brisbane; the University of Johannesburg focused on its contribution to school improvement in Soweto; and Tec de Monterrey on how it was building social and cultural capital with its city leaders.

These case studies not only brought to life the rich and varied ways in which our Universities add value to their cities and regions, but showcased genuinely inspiring initiatives.

‘Peer to Peer’ sessions ran both for Presidents / Vice-Chancellors, and Senior Leaders. The agenda for the former was the rise of economic populism and the challenges it poses to University communities; the latter on how we get even greater value from the core programmes that underpin student and researcher mobility across the network.

At each Annual Meeting a number of awards are formally presented. The most prestigious is the Gilbert Medal, named in honour of the late Professor Alan Gilbert, inaugural Chair of the network whilst he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. The 2017 medal was awarded to Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, former Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, and President of the International Association of Universities (IAU).

Three U21 Awards were made to individuals who had made a significant impact on the activities of the network. This year they went to Professor Cora Burnett-Louw (University of Johannesburg), Professor Joseph Lo-Bianco (University of Melbourne), and Ms Jane Usherwood (former Secretary General of U21).

Pleasingly, all recipients came to Nottingham to receive their awards in person.

Every host finds a way of putting their own mark on the meetings. Ours took the form of inaugurating ‘Universitas 21 Avenue’. This is an avenue of 25 newly planted native trees (weeping silver limes) located in front of the David Ross Sports Village, with each individual tree dedicated to one of the U21 Members. Not only does this provide a stand of new trees for the arboretum being created on University Park, it also provides a permanent presence on the Campus for the network.

Being host clearly offers an opportunity to showcase our University. Since meetings were dispersed across University Park and Jubilee Campus, our wonderful physical assets were forever on display, and fortunately the weather smiled on us.

But even more important, the qualities of our people were forever on display: the symposium and other elements were superbly well supported by staff and students; and our events, hospitality, and estates teams did an exemplary job. That was a source of great pride to me and others.

Finally, there are a wide range of ongoing activities and events throughout the year, details of which can be accessed here: Many are keyed to the core programmes of Educational Innovation, Researcher Engagement, and Student Experience; others are discipline based, or targeted at particular Professional Services.

In addition to what is available from the U21 website, any colleague interested in greater engagement should contact our U21 Coordinator PVC Professor Nick Miles OBE (

Professor Sir David Greenaway


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