International Consortia of Universities and the Mission/Activities Question

Note: click here for a PDF of a printable version of this relatively long entry, which is also cross-posted on Inside Higher Ed.


On May 10th 2012 Universitas 21 heaved itself into the higher ed rankings world with “the first ranking of countries which are the ‘best’ at providing higher education.” As this international consortia of universities noted:

 The Universitas 21 ranking of national higher education systems has been developed to highlight the importance of creating a strong environment for higher education institutions to contribute to economic and cultural development, provide a high-quality experience for students and help institutions compete for overseas applicants.

A screen grab of the top 24 countries, on the basis of this assessment, is pasted in to the right, and you can download a 28 page PDF of the ranking report here. Two informative commentaries on this rankings initiative were produced over the last few days by Ellen Hazelkorn and Alex Usher.

Now, methodological questions aside, it is always worth asking the questions why has a ranking been produced, and how does the ranking fit into the sponsoring organization’s mission and modus operandi. As I’ve outlined here numerous times, many world university rankings are mechanisms to extract freely provided data from universities, which is then transformed into tables, graphics, analyses, websites, etc., that generate attention, advertising, and fuel for income-generating services provided by private firms like QS and Thomson Reuters.

But the Universitas 21 ranking of national higher education systems is different. First, they are not attempting to extract data from universities as their analysis is framed at the national scale.  Second, they primarily drew upon publicly available data to produce their rankings. And third, Universitas 21 is an international consortia of 23 universities (as at 2012), a rare if not lonely bird when it comes to rankings.

My guess, and this is just a guess, is that Universitas 21 is reworking its mission, and the associated suite of objectives and activities to implement this mission.  I used to work as a faculty member at the National University of Singapore (a founding member of Universitas 21) and in the early 2000s discussions of rankings were nowhere to be seen in Universitas 21-linked meetings; it was all about human mobility, nascent discussions of generating revenue via online learning, and ways to encourage collaborative research. The sanctioning of a new ranking, taken at the May 2011 President’s Meeting of Universitas 21, highlights that it is indeed a new activity; one well suited for the ‘attention economy‘ we are situated in.

While I won’t comment here on the value of the Universitas 21 ranking of national higher education systems, or of the emergence of yet another higher ed ranking, I do think it is a timely reminder of the value of rethinking the missions and activities of international consortia (sometimes deemed networks) of universities.  As Heike Jöns and Michael Hoyler have pointed out in various talks, consortia like Universitas 21 and the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the heyday of the boom era (remember that?!), a period when universities were exploring new mechanisms to competitively further their internationalization agendas (while simultaneously being seen to be doing so). Interestingly, several of them had early hopes to capitalize on the emergence of for-credit online education as a potential revenue stream.

Smaller, younger, and more exclusive than the national (e.g., Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada), regional (e.g., Association of African Universities), postcolonial/linguistic (e.g., Agence universitaire de la Francophonie; Association of Commonwealth Universities), and global (e.g., International Association of Universities) associations of universities, these international consortia/networks of universities were formed to bring together a group of peers (or almost peers) where some put forward a view that ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link.’ The logic was to bring together like-minded universities to engender deeper and more concentrated forms of collaboration that were impossible on a bilateral 1-1 basis as well as at larger national, regional, or global scales. These consortia, as originally envisioned, were not mechanisms for capacity building (e.g., on a North-South university to university basis); instead they were mechanisms to enable the carefully selected members to become more than the sum of their parts, so to speak.

It is safe to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that such international consortia of universities have had variable levels of success since their emergence in the 1990s and 2000s. Indeed Stephen Toope, the President of the University of British Columbia (UBC), had this to say in 2011:

Inviting the world in—from brilliant hiring to attracting the top international students—cannot of itself create the critical mass of talent that’s needed to solve fundamental global problems. We need partners. We must collaborate, not only with other universities but also with community groups, civil society organizations, industry, and government.

And yet, you might be thinking, we’ve built partnerships! We’ve formed networks! We’ve been collaborating! Yes, and I would argue that so far, none of the university networks that arose at the turn of this century has fulfilled its promise. Truly successful networks typically arise in an organic fashion, from the bottom up. We can’t direct this kind of growth hierarchically. But we can, I believe, foster the conditions in which it will happen naturally. [my emphasis]

A prompt, to be sure, that international consortia like Universitas 21 and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (both of which UBC belongs to) need to have their missions and associated mechanisms for implementation debated about, while member universities also need to consider what expectations can realistically be made of the consortia they participate in.

International consortia of universities are operating in new contexts, as well, since many of them were formed “at the turn of this century.” We see, for example:

  • A blossoming of international collaborative degrees, many fueled by the largesse of the European Commission, the emergence of the European Higher Education Area, and also the desire of universities in Pacific Asia, South Asia, and Latin America to partner up at North-South and South-South levels.
  • The creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) designed to further easily accessible (and often free) lifelong learning opportunities. Completion of the courses sometimes includes the acquisition of a certificate versus a formal credit towards a degree. This model is a sharp contrast to the early online agenda of the international consortia formed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. See, for example, Coursera, Course Hero, edX, Khan Academy, MITx, OpenClass, Udacity, Udemy, many of which were established in 2011 and 2012.
  • The emergence of professional master degrees and “new credit programs that serve non-traditional student populations,” many of which are designed to generate retained revenue for intra-institutional units (departments and schools). These schemes, though, are often targeted at very national if not regional (e.g., state/province) audiences.
  • Austerity-related budgets in many national funding councils, which has reduced the opportunity to acquire healthy large-scale research support. In such a context, ‘hitching your wagon’ via an international consortia to other universities in relatively resource rich contexts is unlikely to generate significant, if any, gains.
  • The emergence of project-specific international consortia to develop both low and high profile experiments in higher education (e.g. Applied Sciences NYC, est 2012; Center for Urban Science and Progress, est 2012) as well as defacto consortia associated with buildings and programs in select cities (e.g., Singapore’s Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE)), or even universities (e.g., both Saudi Arabia’s KAUST and Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University were brought to life on the back of temporary international consortia of universities).
  • The emergence of institutionalized disciplinary-specific networks (e.g., Global Network for Advanced Management, est. 2012) and deep partnerships (e.g., the Wharton-INSEAD Alliance, est. 2001).
  • Deep partnerships that bring together 2-3 universities to facilitate enhanced coordination and integration of teaching, research and service functions (e.g., the Monash-Warwick Alliance, est. 2012).
  • The establishment of intra-national networks or associations of universities that act as explicit or defacto ‘entry points’ for relations with foreign universities, funding councils, scholarship agencies and the like (e.g. CALDO a consortium of the Universities of Alberta, Laval, Dalhousie and Ottawa).
  • An emerging debate about the nature and value system underlying dominant forms of internationalization, including a concern that internationalization is a process “bringing commodification, increasing the brain drain and potentially diminishing diversity in higher education” (see ‘Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call for Action‘). This debate links into internal consortia discussions (that go back to Day 1, really) about the tensions between a member-only peer-to-peer approach vs the idea of more inclusive and diverse institutional membership structures, with more heterogeneous global geographies.

This is an interesting time for international consortia of universities. The consortia structure brings with it strengths and weaknesses.  For example, it is large enough to enable the drawing in of complementary resources, people, skill sets, networks, etc.  The scale of these consortia and the emphasis on peer-based membership structures also facilitates collaborative action on a number of levels. However, international consortia are also too large, in some ways, to facilitate rapid responses to opportunities. There is also a sense of equality in peer-based membership structures and this can preclude deeper partnerships between 2-3 members of a larger consortia. Add in the challenge of how to engender international research collaboration, as alluded to by Stephen Toope above, where you try to “foster the conditions in which it will happen naturally,” international teaching collaboration, and the collective provision of some forms of infrastructure, and you begin to see a rather complicated array of forces, dynamics, and actors to manage: all more reason for regular and open critical engagement about the purpose and value-added of international consortia and associations.

To facilitate further discussions about the mission/activities question, I have pasted in (see below) the missions of the international consortia, networks, and associations that I know of.  I’ve listed this information in reverse chronological order, in part to see what the newest consortia, networks and associations have decided to focus upon.  If you know of any others that I have missed, please email me <> and I’ll add them here. Please keep it in mind, though, that some of these missions are evolving as I write, and the websites I link to are variable in quality and how up-to-date they are.

Kris Olds

ps: my sincere thanks to a large number of people (too many to mention here) who provided very helpful leads and insights about this topic.


Mission Statements of International Associations, Consortia and Networks of Universities

Note: these are listed in reverse chronological order from date of formation. I’ve had to make a few editorial decisions about some text as there are varying understandings about what a ‘mission statement’ is. Link through to the organizations’ sites if you need information about associated objectives and activities. Please send any necessary updates or notifications about errors below to me at <>

University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) Est. 2011 | 3 members & 2 partners

The mission of the UGPN is to develop sustainable world-class research, education and knowledge transfer through an active international network of selected Universities collaborating in research, learning and teaching to benefit global society.

Matariki Network of Universities (MNU)  Est. 2010 | 7 members

The MNU has been established to enable the universities to enhance diversity, to share ideas and expertise, and to learn international best practice from each other, recognising the shared commitment to an ethos of excellence in research, scholarship and rounded education.

WC2 University Network Est. 2010 | 12 members

The WC2 University Network has been developed with the goal of bringing together top universities located in the heart of major world cities in order to address cultural, environmental and political issues of common interest to world cities and their universities.

By promoting closer interaction between universities, local government and business communities, WC2 will help to create a forum where universities can be more responsive to the needs of their stakeholders in the context of world cities.

Global Liberal Arts Alliance Est. 2009 | 25 Members

The Global Alliance is a multilateral partnership of equals intended to strengthen education in the liberal arts and sciences. Specifically, The Global Alliance’s strength derives from expertise and experience sharing, and its emphases on the challenges and opportunities facing institutions that educate graduates for citizenship and leadership in the highly-globalized twenty-first century.

Network of Networks (NNs)  Est. 2008 | 26 members

The Network of Networks (NNs) is the idea of comprehensive network linking existing networks of universities and research institutions, which enables cooperation that will more effectively utilize the respective strengths of its members. By increasing opportunities for high-level joint research projects and student exchanges among members of existing networks, the NNs aims to provide a framework for the development of a new, integrated base of scientific knowledge leading to solutions to complex global challenges.

International Research Universities Network (IRUN) Est. 2007 | 10 members

The International Research Universities Network (IRUN) is an international network of broad-based research universities. The universities participating in the Network are well known for the international quality of their research and education, and are strongly motivated to improve that quality even further.

The aim of IRUN is to further improve the quality of research and teaching at the universities involved. Within the Network, the exchange of researchers, lecturers and students will be encouraged and facilitated.

International Forum of Public Universities (IFPU) Est. 2007 | 21 members

On October 11th, 2007, a new International Forum of Public Universities (IFPU) was created. Limited to some twenty-five establishments, the Forum brings together public universities covering a vast array of contemporary knowledge, establishments that are recognized within their country for the importance they afford to research and their close ties to the development of society. The founding universities members are from Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and North America. The office of the general secretariat of the Forum is located at Université de Montréal.

The IFPU answers a need that is not being met by any existing university group. The Forum promotes the expression of values that underlie the mission of public universities in an era of internationalization. The Forum will assist in the creation of new models of cooperation in education, teaching and research. According to common themes reflecting the issues faced by public universities, the Forum will promote education and research actions between establishments by calling upon the professor-researchers of member establishments and their post-graduate students. Some twenty highly reputed public universities from four continents teaming up in the discovery and transmission of new knowledge is certainly timely responsible.

International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) Est. 2006 | 10 members

IARU members are leading research universities that share a global vision, similar values and a commitment to educating future world leaders.  On 14 January 2006, IARU members signed a memorandum of understanding to engage in various activities including summer internships, research collaborations, benchmarking best practices, and identifying shared or common positions on key public issues.  As the Alliance is small in nature, the members share a close-knit relationship.

Talloires Network  Est. 2005 | 236 members

The Talloires Network is an international association of institutions committed to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. We work together to implement the recommendations of the Talloires Declaration and build a global movement of engaged universities.

Note: in 2010 the Asia-Talloires Network of Industry and Community Engaged Universities (ATNEU) was established with the aim of bringing “together key regional stakeholders from universities, industries, NGOs, communities, and governments to catalyze sustainable partnerships that identify and address the social, economic and environmental challenges and ultimately improve the quality of life for communities in the region.”

Global U8 Consortium  Est. 2003 | 7 members

Globalization of research and education activities requires that higher education itself becomes a global knowledge-based enterprise, seeking to build bridges across boundaries of diverse cultures and academic disciplines. Universities must ally with one another to create innovative research and educational advantages.

The Global U8 Consortium is an alliance of universities from around the world whose objective is a dynamic and distinctive collaboration, building innovative curricula and research programs. The GU8 Consortium focuses principally
on four related academic disciplines: Marine Affairs, Global Logistics, Business Administration, and Advanced Technologies. All GU8 members strive to advance worldwide knowledge in these areas of common expertise. We pursue excellence, focus on sustainability and responsible leadership, and impart these values through our students, researchers and partners.

Academic Consortium 21 (AC21)  Est. 2002 | 20 members

The vision of AC21 is the promoting of cooperation in education and research between members, the bridging between different societies in the world and the delivering of wisdom to all people to mutually understand and share values, knowledge and cultures necessary to improve quality of life and to foster co-existence beyond national and regional boundaries in the 21st century.

Alliance Program Est. 2002 | 4 members

Created in the fall 2002, the Alliance Program is a non-profit transatlantic joint-venture between Columbia University and three French prestigious institutions, The École Polytechnique, Sciences Po and the Université of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne. Alliance is an innovative program whose aim is to initiate and accompany new initiatives in the fields of education cooperation, research collaboration, and policy outreach.

League of European Research Universities (LERU)  Est. 2002 | 20 members

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) was founded in 2002 as an association of research-intensive universities sharing the values of high-quality teaching in an environment of internationally competitive research.

LERU is committed to:

  • education through an awareness of the frontiers of human understanding;
  • the creation of new knowledge through basic research, which is the ultimate source of innovation in society;
  • the promotion of research across a broad front, which creates a unique capacity to reconfigure activities in response to new opportunities and problems.

The purpose of the League is to advocate these values, to influence policy in Europe and to develop best practice through mutual exchange of experience.

European University Association (EUA) Est. 2001 | 850 members

As a centre of expertise in higher education and research, EUA supports universities by:

  • Promoting policies to enable universities and other higher education institutions to respond to growing expectations regarding their contribution to the future development of a knowledge society for Europe
  • Advocating these policies to decision makers at different levels and ensuring that the voice of universities is heard
  • Informing members of policy debates which will impact on their development
  • Developing its knowledge and expertise through projects that involve and benefit individual institutions while also underpinning policy development
  • Strengthening the governance, leadership and management of institutions through a range of activities targeted at mutual learning, exchange of experience and the transfer of best practices
  • Developing partnerships in higher education and research between Europe and the rest of the word in order to strengthen the position of European universities in a global context.

Worldwide Universities Network (WUN)  Est. 2000 | 19 members

The Worldwide Universities Network comprises 19 research-intensive institutions spanning 6 continents. Our mission is to be one of the leading international Higher Education networks, collaborating to accelerate the creation of knowledge and to develop leaders who will be prepared to address the significant challenges, and opportunities, of our rapidly changing world.

Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) – International Consortium Est. 2000 | 6 members

The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) – International Consortium is based at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California Berkeley and includes a selective group of top ranked international research universities who share the following objectives:

  • Develop and administrator an on-line, census, and customized version of the SERU survey of first-degree students for international research universities, parallel to the SERU Surveys in the US.
  • Conduct research on the student experience, sharing best practices via SERU meetings, symposiums, and joint-research projects intended to inform and drive institutional self-improvement in undergraduate education and broaden our understanding of the socioeconomic impact of these institutions.
  • Collaborate with SERU-AAU Consortium members in the generation and sharing of institutional, comparative, and longitudinal data on the student experience, including SERU surveys of students, and based on agreed data sharing protocols.

Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi)  Est. 1999 | 214 members

At the beginning of this century there was a strong need to establish new bases for a sustainable global society, taking into account environmental limits, re-examining the dynamics of global economic, political, human, social and cultural models, as well as their local manifestations. In fact we are currently experiencing a crisis of civilization, in which we must facilitate the transition towards a paradigm shift aimed at rebuilding society, with the collective desire and responsibility of attaining a better world for future generations.

This is significant enough to warrant a discussion on what the role of higher education and its social contract should be in this new era, to reinvent an innovative and socially committed response that anticipates and adds value to the process of social transformations. These changes are mostly related to the review of the educative purpose, the role of knowledge in society to address major global issues, local needs in a global context and the need to prepare people to be global actors of positive transformation of societies.

This requires reconsidering what the social contribution of higher education should be. GUNi encourages higher education institutions to redefine their role, embrace this process of transformation and strengthen their critical stance within society.

To face these challenges, the mission of GUNi is to strengthen higher education’s role in society and contributing to the renewal of the visions, missions and policies of higher education’s main issues across the world under a vision of public service, relevance and social responsibility.

IDEA League  Est. 1999 | 5 members

The IDEA League, founded in 1999, is a network of five leading universities of technology and science. Our joint activities in education, research and quality assurance, as well as our joint participation in EU programmes and initiatives make us a model of European cooperation. Together, we create added value by pooling resources for collaborative and complementary programmes for our students, researchers and staff.

Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe (UNICA)  Est. 1999 | 43 members

To achieve its aims UNICA articulates the views of member universities to European institutions and to national, regional and municipal governments. It provides members with information on European initiatives and programmes, and supports them in co-operative projects. It also provides a forum in which universities can reflect on the demands of strategic change in university research, education and administration.

Association of Arab & European Universities (AEUA)  Est. 1998 | 67 members

The Association of Arab and European Universities (AEUA) was initiated in 1998 by the Lutfia Rabbani Foundation in The Netherlands. Its prime objective is to facilitate and to stimulate collaboration between universities in European and Arab countries at an institutional, departmental and faculty level. Ultimate goal is to develop human resources and promote understanding between cultures and exchanges between the civil societies involved.

Universitas 21  Est. 1997 | 23 members

The leading global network of research-intensive universities, working together to foster global citizenship and institutional innovation through research-inspired teaching and learning, student mobility, connecting our students and staff, and wider advocacy for internationalisation.

Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU)  Est. 1997 | 42 members

APRU aims to promote scientific, educational and cultural collaboration among Pacific Rim economies. In both its objectives and guiding principles, APRU embodies a commitment to global academic and research standards.

APRU recognizes that its activities can be powerful catalysts for expanding educational, economic and technological cooperation among Pacific Rim economies. The association seeks to promote dialogue and collaboration between academic institutions in the Pacific Rim so that they can become effective players in today’s global knowledge economy.

Association of East Asian Research Universities (AEARU)  Est. 1996 | 17 members

The Association of East Asian Research Universities (AEARU) is a regional organization founded in January 1996, with the goals of forming a forum for the presidents of leading research-oriented universities in East Asia and of carrying out mutual exchanges between the major universities in the region. Expectations are that this regional union, on the basis of common academic and cultural backgrounds among the member universities, will contribute not only to the development of higher education and research but also to the opening up of a new era leading to cultural, economic and social progress in the East Asian region.

ASEAN University Network (AUN)  Est. 1995 | 26 members

The general objective of the AUN is to strengthen the existing network of cooperation among universities in ASEAN by promoting collaborative study and research programmes on the priority areas identified by ASEAN. The specific objective is to promote cooperation and solidarity among scientists and scholars in ASEAN Member Countries; to develop academic and human resources in the region; and to produce and transmit scientific and scholarly knowledge and information to achieve ASEAN goals.

Consortium for North American Higher Education (CONAHEC)  Est. 1994 | 162 members

The Consortium for North American Higher Education (CONAHEC)’s primary mission is to foster academic collaboration among institutions, organizations and agencies of higher education in Canada, Mexico and the United States. CONAHEC also promotes linkages between North America and higher education entities around the world.

Compostela Group of Universities (CGU)  Est. 1993 | 70 members

The Compostela Group of Universities (CGU) is a large, prominent, open and inclusive network of universities whose overarching goal is to facilitate and promote cooperation in the higher education sector. It achieves this by acting as a platform to foster and support projects among its members as well as by participating in activities as an entity in its own right.

Asociación de Universidades de América Latina y el Caribe para la Integración (AUALCPI)  Est. 1993 | 70 members

AUALCPI primary purpose is to promote cooperation between universities in the region with the aim of promoting the integration of the Commonwealth of Latin America and the Caribbean through collaborative activities and construction of a permanent space for discussion on integration and its relationship to education.

Santander Group (SG)  Est. 1992 | 34 members

The Santander Group is a European Universities Network comprising almost 40 members from 16 European countries cooperating closely to strengthen their individual potential as they strive for excellence in university governance, teaching and research approaches.

The Santander Group is based on mutual trust, understanding, and respect for cultural diversity, which makes the network an open forum for exchange of experience and best practices in the strategic areas for the higher education system in Europe such as quality assurance and academic mobility. Thus, the Network plays an essential role in realisation of the Bologna Process objectives.

The association also encourages contacts between universities and their surrounding communities on matters related to social and technological improvements, which makes it a reliable and strong partner for regional development.

Asociación de Universidades “Grupo Montevideo” (AUGM)  Est.  1991 | 27 Members

The Asociación de Universidades “Grupo Montevideo” (AUGM) is a network of public universities, autonomous and self-governing, of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. It is a civil non-governmental non-profit organization whose main purpose to promote the integration process via scientific, technological, educational and cultural cooperation between all its members.

European Association for University Lifelong Learning (EUCEN)  Est. 1991 | 222 members

To contribute to the economic and cultural life of Europe through the promotion and advancement of lifelong learning within higher education institutions in Europe and elsewhere;

To foster universities’ influence in the development of lifelong learning knowledge and policies throughout Europe.

Consortium Linking Universities of Science and Technology for Education and Research (CLUSTER)  Est. 1990 | 12 members

The VISION for CLUSTER is to become:

  • The leading university network in technology for Research, Education and Innovation in Europe
  • A central player in the development of Knowledge & Innovation Communities in Europe.
  • The prime partner for Industry cooperation at the European level

Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF)  Est. 1989 | 779 members

The Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) is one of the most important higher education and research associations in the world. The AUF has also been La Francophonie’s operating agency for higher education and research since 1989. This Francophone project aims to establish a French-language international academic community that produces and transmits knowledge.

Columbus Association (CA)  Est. 1987 | 47 members

Columbus is a non-profit organization, founded by the European University Association (EUA) and the Association of Latin American Universities (AULA). Since 1987, Columbus has promoted cooperation between universities in Europe and Latin America. Its consolidated network of higher education institutions and university administrations allows directors to identify and implement institutional strategies to respond to new challenges.

Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU)  Est. 1986 | 400+ members

To Champion Hispanic Success in Higher Education

HACU fulfills its mission by:

  • promoting the development of member colleges and universities;
  • improving access to and the quality of post-secondary educational opportunities for Hispanic students; and
  • meeting the needs of business, industry and government through the development and sharing of resources, information and expertise.

Coimbra Group  Est. 1985 | 40 members

Founded in 1985 and formally constituted by Charter in 1987, the Coimbra Group is an association of long-established European comprehensive, multidisciplinary universities of high international standard committed to creating special academic and cultural ties in order to promote, for the benefit of its members, internationalization, academic collaboration, excellence in learning and research, and service to society. It is also the purpose of the Group to influence European education and research policy and to develop best practice through the mutual exchange of experience.

Inter-American Organization for Higher Education (IOHE)  Est. 1980 | 300+ members

Founded in 1980, the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education (IOHE) was created to respond to the needs of developing international relations, improving the quality of information, and promoting academic collaboration among Higher Education Institutes (HEI) in the Americas. The IOHE is the only university organization that spans the entire continent of the Americas.

The IOHE is a not-for-profit organization whose objectives are primarily educational. This is achieved by: establishing collaboration among universities of the Americas; promoting understanding and mutual support; contributing to the sustainable development of the peoples of the Americas and respecting the free discussion of ideas.

Association of Arab Universities (AAU)  Est. 1969 | 270 members

Assisting and coordinating the efforts of Arab Universities to prepare capable persons who can serve their Arab communities and preserve its unified culture and civilization, as well as to assist in developing its natural resources.

Association of African Universities (AAU)  Est. 1967 | 270 members

The Association of African Universities is an international non governmental organization set up by universities in Africa to promote cooperation among themselves and between them and the international Academic community.

International Association of Universities (IAU)  Est. 1950 | 604 members & 27 member organizations

IAU: Building a Worldwide Higher Education Community.

IAU, founded in 1950, is the UNESCO-based worldwide association of higher education institutions. It brings together institutions and organisations from some 120 countries for reflection and action on common concerns and collaborates with various international, regional and national bodies active in higher education. Its services are available on the priority basis to Members but also to organisations, institutions and authorities concerned with higher education, as well as to individual policy and decision-makers, specialists, administrators, teachers, researchers and students.

The Association aims at giving expression to the obligation of universities and other higher education institutions as social institutions to promote, through teaching, research and services, the principles of freedom and justice, of human dignity and solidarity, and contributes, through international cooperation, to the development of material and moral assistance for the strengthening of higher education generally.

As stated in its Founding Charter IAU’s mission is based on the fundamental principles for which every university should stand:

  • The right to pursue knowledge for its own sake and to follow wherever the search for truth may lead;
  • The tolerance of divergent opinion and freedom from political interference.

Union de Universidades de America Latina y el Caribe  Est. 1949 | 177 members

Promoting regional integration, defending the autonomy of universities, boosting the quality and social relevance of higher education.

Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)  Est. 1913 | 500+ members

Working with our members to promote and contribute to the provision of excellent higher education for the benefit of all people throughout the Commonwealth.

Technology, international consortia, and geographically dispersed research teams

The Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) is one of several international consortia that have been created, since the late 1990s, to deepen linkages between universities. I’ve been involved with two of them (the WUN and Universitas 21) while working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National University of Singapore.

As Lily Kong (Vice-President, Global Relations, National University of Singapore) noted in her 7 October 2007 entry (‘The rise, rhetoric, and reality of international university consortia’):

[o]ne of the challenges of making such university alliances work is the lack of clarity of intention, and the lack of a clear articulation of how such alliances, often formed from the top by senior university administrators, can achieve the stated objectives. In almost every new alliance, establishing research partnerships and collaboration among member universities is said to be a priority. Are alliances really an effective way to develop research collaboration though? Member universities that are chosen to be part of an alliance are often chosen for political reasons (”political” in the most expansive of its meanings). They may be chosen because they are thought to be “research powerhouses”. But different universities have different areas of research strength, and university administrators sitting together to decide an area/s among their universities for research collaboration can be quite artificial. Such alliances can then at best facilitate meetings and workshops among researchers, but the collaborative sparks must come from the ground. Throwing a group of people together once or twice and asking that they produce huge grant applications to support collaborative research is not likely to happen. Those with the responsibility of developing alliances, however, will be anxious to show results, and sometimes, just the act of bringing researchers together is hardly sufficient result.

Given these challenges, some of us have been trying to think through ways to use the international consortia framework as a vehicle to deepen regular connections between geographically dispersed researchers. In doing so, though, we’ve been faced with debates about the costs of facilitating relatively frequent human mobility between member universities, not to mention which types of people (Graduate students? Faculty? Staff?) to target with available support. To be sure there is nothing quite like face-to-face engagement: intense sessions in meetings, workshops, summer institutes, and in situ collaborative research. However, these face-to-face moments, which can never be replaced, need to be supplemented by regular virtual gatherings. Furthermore, the ongoing financial crisis is now generating troublesome ripple effects in research networks where bodily movement across space is the ideal.

In the course of thinking about the development of UW-Madison’s WUN website, we have been considering the establishment of some web-based resources for researchers who seek to collaborate virtually, including via sound and video in synchronous (ie concurrent/real time) fashion. We have used a variety of such technologies – Skype, video-conferencing, Access Grid Node – before, though we have not formally identified, at UW-Madison’s Division of International Studies (the host unit of WUN staff), the full array of options, which ones are best for what activities, what the full cost (if any) of using each of them are, and how researchers can access them (if they need to be booked). Yet a search for a model website via an associated consortia (the Committee on Institutional Cooperation) failed to identify examples of one.

Given the above, we met with the Division of Information Technology (DOIT) a few days ago. DOIT’s savvy staff ended up having more questions for us – very simple yet telling questions – than we had for them.  They wisely helped us think through the forms of collaboration being undertaken via WUN-funded initiatives, and what types and level of resources we had to enable such collaboration to occur.

Now, the vast majority of WUN-related research collaboration does not involve the transmission and analysis of large-scale data sets – the type dependent upon the Internet2 cyberinfrastructure and collaborative platforms like HUBzero.  Rather, it tends to involve formal and informal dialogue within and between research teams, fora such as workshops and conferences, virtual (video-conference) courses for students in multiple sites, and formal and informal graduate student advising. Given this, DOIT’s staff recommended that we explore, more intensively, options for web-conferencing. There are, of course, many other options but we settled on web-conferencing as the likely best option.

Web-conferencing is a form of collaboration that enables geographically dispersed research teams to connect via computer desktops, while allowing engagement throughout the link-up process. Deliberative engagement, versus ‘passive learning’, is important for research teams typically do not want to sit quietly while someone they know is speaking.

Typical features of web-conferencing include:

  • Slide show presentations – where PowerPoint or Keynote slides are presented to the audience and markup tools and a remote mouse pointer are used to engage the audience while the presenter discusses slide content.
  • Live or Streaming video – where full motion webcam, digital video camera or multi-media files are pushed to the audience.
  • VoIP (Real time audio communication through the computer via use of headphones and speakers)
  • Web tours – where URLs, data from forms, cookies, scripts and session data can be pushed to other participants enabling them to be pushed though web based logons, clicks, etc. This type of feature works well when demonstrating websites where users themselves can also participate.
  • Meeting Recording – where presentation activity is recorded on a PC, MAC or server side for later viewing and/or distribution.
  • Whiteboard with annotation (allowing the presenter and/or attendees to highlight or mark items on the slide presentation. Or, simply make notes on a blank whiteboard.)
  • Text chat – For live question and answer sessions, limited to the people connected to the meeting. Text chat may be public (echo’ed to all participants) or private (between 2 participants).
  • Polls and surveys (allows the presenter to conduct questions with multiple choice answers directed to the audience)
  • Screen sharing/desktop sharing/application sharing (where participants can view anything the presenter currently has shown on their screen. Some screen sharing applications allow for remote desktop control, allowing participants to manipulate the presenters screen, although this is not widely used.)

Note, though, that this is not a new technology: web-conferencing has been heavily used in some disciplines (e.g., Chemistry), and of course the business world, for some time. It has also moved through a number of development phases, and is increasingly affordable and simpler to use.

There are, as you might expect, plenty of platform options for web-conferencing. I’ll cut to the chase and state, given our needs and the evolving discussion, that Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro software emerged as the most likely option for enabling the type of engagement that we are seeing in the vast majority of WUN-supported projects. Link here for information about other platform options including the relatively popular Elluminate and WebEx. See a brief YouTube summary of Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro below.

We’ll be testing out this platform in the near future and will report back. We’ll also be comparing notes with WUN staff who have been using Marratech, a platform bought up by Google in 2007. But from what I can detect, this type of web-conferencing software, in conjunction with weblogs and wikis (to aggregate research group output, and enable the joint development of papers, presentations, and so on; see a brief YouTube summary of what a wiki is below), should satisfy the majority of our needs given the dispersed nature of WUN-sponsored research networks.

Synchronous communication technologies, that operate via computer desktops, are increasingly important when working to deepen network relations between members of small-scale yet geographically dispersed research communities. This said, such technologies can never create nor determine; they simply enable. Yet the enabling process is hindered by lack of knowledge about the technological options at hand, and how they mesh with the nature of the research communities (and cultures) associated with the creative process. It is at this level – that of the textures of practice – through which international networks are brought to life, and international consortia show their worth, or not.

Kris Olds

PS: please let me know if your institution has developed a single portal/website that outlines (and ideally evaluates) the wide array of technological options that enable geographically dispersed small-scale research teams to function. I’ll post the links that come through below, assuming such sites exist!

The Global Colloquium of University Presidents: events for global challenges?

University presidents (or their equivalents – vice-chancellors, rectors), especially those associated with universities that seek to be at the forefront of the internationalization/globalization agenda, are searching for suitable mechanisms to make their voices heard, create momentum for change, and generate discursive effects at a wide variety of scales. In other words university presidents seek material change (e.g., enhanced understanding of issue X; new initiatives to address problem Y) but they also seek to use such mechanisms to create positive publicity for their university (under their stewardship) as leaders at a global scale. Leadership at the local, state/provincial, and national scales is no longer enough for ambitious university presidents. Thus a rescaling process is taking place with an enhanced emphasis on the global, with universities as seeking to act as global actors and university presidents seeking to act as global leaders. In some ways this is nothing new, as the experience of colonial university vice-chancellors and rectors demonstrated. Such people acted as the interlocutors between the colonizer and the colonized; the soft administrative infrastructure and centres of calculation that enabled colonial networks to be extended over space. This said times have changed, and it is interesting to see what forms of action are emerging in the contemporary era, where these forms of action are initiated, where they take place, and what the underlying objectives are.

International university consortia and associations are one key mechanism, be they inclusive or exclusive. One example of the inclusive is the very active Paris-based International Association of Universities/Association Internationale des Universités, which has 570 members. The IAU/AIU runs or sponsors numerous events that bring together senior university officials, including presidents, to discuss and debate issues of global relevance. As Lily Kong also noted on 7 October, international consortia such as the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), or the International Association of Research Universities (IARU) also create events (many of which are of an annual nature) that bring together senior officials, usually university presidents, to discuss issues. They sometimes focus on substantive issues, such as at the recent Realising the Global University conference, though many of such events tend to be focused on consortia governance matters.

Regular and ad-hoc groupings of university presidents are also brought together by national councils and associations but their ambit is national in scope is therefore limited by statute, in general.


In this context, the third annual Global Colloquium of University Presidents took place at New York University (NYU) a few weeks ago. The first two of these events were held at Columbia University (2005), and Princeton University (2006). A core group of university presidents (Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania; John Sexton, NYU; Lee Bollinger, Columbia University; Richard Levin, Yale University; Neil Rudenstine, president emeritus of Harvard University; and Shirley Tilghman, Princeton University) are the formal sponsors of the Global Colloquium of University Presidents.

Each colloquium explores two issues: “universities and their role in society, and a specific public policy challenge”, though the themes of discussion vary from year to year, with the assumption that the university president in attendance will draw upon expert resources (and one representative) out of his/her institution. The themes associated with the first three Global Colloquium of University Presidents have been:

  • 2005: “International migration, a key element of globalization” and “academic freedom, a crucial foundation of university research and teaching”
  • 2006: “The social benefits of the research university in the 21st century” and “innovative sources of funding for public goods”
  • 2007: “The role of universities in relation to climate change” and “setting the post-Kyoto agenda for climate policy”

A significant part of the rationale is to provide an annual forum where the Secretary General of the United Nations, and some of his staff, can benefit from the dialogue and discussion that takes place. As Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the UN, put it in 2005:

One of the first speeches I gave on taking office as Secretary-General was to a distinguished group of university presidents from around the world. From the outset, I was convinced that universities would be tremendously important partners of the United Nations. And so it has been. As educators, as repositories and creators of knowledge, as people deeply involved in helping the world address the issues of our times, your role has been vital. This colloquium is yet another example of the productive ties we have developed over the years, and I hope it will become a tradition.

The third Global Colloquium of University Presidents appears to have drawn in a larger and more diverse set of university presidents, as the attendee list demonstrates (Bangkok University, Columbia University, El Colegio de México, Fudan University, Harvard Universit, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Indian Institute of Technology, Karagpur, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris-Sciences Po, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kyoto University, Makerere University, New York University, Pontifical Catholic, University of Rio de Janiero, Princeton University, Seoul National University, Tsinghua University, University of Amsterdam, University of Botswana, University of British Columbia,, University of Dhaka, University of Oxford, University of Pennsylvania, University of São Paulo, University of Tokyo, Yale University). It also drew in the new Secretary General (Ban Ki-moon), with Bill Clinton as a guest speaker this particular year (hard to imagine GWB as a guest speaker in future years…). NYU is, as we have noted, pushing the boundaries with respect to the globalization process so this event would clearly have been viewed as a complement to action on other levels for this institution.

gcupreception.jpgAre these events more than networking opportunities? It is difficult to say at this stage. Is, for example, the cumulative knowledge base of all of these universities regarding climate change evident in the position papers available here and here (with late stragglers consigned to the late download site here)? Or are the position papers mere leaders to bridge scholars in a president’s university to relevant UN units?

I can’t answer these questions, nor will I pose more that could be asked. But what I can say is that we at GlobalHigherEd have noticed a restlessness as universities (and select university leaders) seek to identify what networks and scales to focus their activities and contributions on, and how to frame their identities (and their brand names). All universities are embedded, placed, grounded; they have territorially specific responsibilities to the societies that they depend upon and (hopefully) nurture. But how to blend these responsibilities with supra-national responsibilities and objectives is becoming a conceptual and strategic challenge. Are temporary or regular fora such as the Global Public University, the Globally Engaged Institution, and the Global Colloquium of University Presidents the answer? Or are member-only international consortia of universities the answer given their capacity to offer sustained dialogue? Or is active and sustained leadership via a body like the International Association of Universities/Association Internationale des Universités the answer? There are numerous other options, many of which have not been discussed or indeed even invented yet. The point is that we are only at the early stages of thinking through what role universities, and university presidents, should be doing with their limited time and resources so as to address pressing process-oriented challenges that cut across the divisions that so artificially constrain truly global analyses and the formulation of associated solutions. If universities are to become genuine global actors, then more sustained thinking, and acting, on an intra-organizational level, is required. But we also need a broader global view, with an eye to creating a more effective and inclusive global landscape of options that is appropriate for universities and their leaders.

Kris Olds

Update: The next Global Colloquium of University Presidents is being held at Yale University in January 2010. Link here for the press release.