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Published: 20 April 2018

Surrey goes global: UGPN Annual Conference 2018

The University of Surrey was proud to host the 2018 University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) Annual Conference last week on 9 – 11 April. The conference brought together over a hundred top academics from across four continents to discuss collaborations and to address global challenges. 

UGPN Conference 2018

The UGPN is an academic network spanning four continents which brings together some of the world’s leading universities: North Carolina State University (NCSU), USA; the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil; the University of Surrey (UoS), UK; and the University of Wollongong (UoW), Australia. Established in 2011, the UGPN aims 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”.

The 2018 conference was opened by all four university partner Presidents, who spoke of the importance of the UGPN network to their universities. Surrey President Prof GQ Max Lu described the UGPN as ‘an expression of the global and collaborative outlook of the modern University’, with NCSU Provost Dr Warwick Arden illustrating to delegates how the UGPN ‘plays into NC State’s top strategic goals’. Prof Vahan Agopyan, Rector of USP highlighted the impressive co-publication outputs from the UGPN network (over 400 since 2011), while Prof Paul Wellings, Vice-Chancellor of UoW underlined the huge resources of the UGPN’s combined research infrastructure and the benefits this provides when tackling global challenges together.

Delegates from the four partner universities engaged in a range of meetings, workshops and events over the 3-day conference which provided unique opportunities for interaction and discussion on a variety of topics, including academic workshops on four key research themes:

  • Digital Innovation & Applications
  • Delivering Global Health & Wellbeing
  • Producing a Smarter Planet
  • Entrepreneurship & Economic Development

The first day saw plenary talks from Vivienne Stern (Director of Universities UK International), who gave a sector-wide context and reiterated the importance of international collaboration of the type that UGPN promotes, and Professor Derk-Jan Dijk (Director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre), who gave a fascinating keynote address on ‘The noble science of circadian rhythms and sleep’. UGPN Executive Committee met in the afternoon to discuss plans to leverage increased research funding, new opportunities for student and staff mobility, development of the UGPN brand, as well as exciting new initiatives such as UGPN Dual PhD programmes – announcements to follow soon.

The second day featured a series of parallel workshops where academics within the network showcased their research and participated in lively discussions about new opportunities and collaborations, some of which will lead into ideas for securing funding from the UGPN Research Collaboration Fund 2018 (login required). A PhD Poster Exhibition was held in the Vet School atrium which showcased some of the fantastic research being conducted by Surrey PhD candidates and facilitated stimulating discussions with academics from across the UGPN network.   

The final day brought together the outcomes of the workshops, with presentations from each on their key themes. Some highlights:

Digital Innovation & Applications brought together an eclectic group of participants contributing on a range of disciplines, contexts and technologies, ranging from Digital Innovation for Civil Infrastructure to Adaptive Digital Games for Education. Plans emerged for ‘living labs’ projects across UGPN and for scaling up research funding to facilitate collaborative research projects.

The workshop on Producing a Smarter Planet saw UGPN participants focus in on the huge issue of plastics in our oceans. The group discussed technology-focused and life cycle-focused dimensions of this major environmental problem and made plans for collaborative projects, including one on ‘Re-imagining the fate of plastics – a holistic approach to sustainable solutions’.

The Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Workshop generated three themes for developing potential collaborative projects:

  • Social enterprise & social innovation
  • Pedagogy and entrepreneurship education: innovative learning methodologies and industry collaboration
  • Entrepreneurship and emotion

This group are making plans for engagement in education as well as collaborative research.

Delivering Global Health and Wellbeing was the largest workshop, with contributors from the NHS as well as the four UGPN universities. Sub-themes gave focus on areas such as Early Years Development, Healthy Living for healthy aging – a Global focus, and Global Health & Wellbeing in a 24hr Society. Examples of planned collaborative research include a global study on Vitamin D deficiency and ‘Born in 2020: An international longitudinal birth cohort to study the positive and negative consequences of engagement with media in the first 1000 days’.

Other important UGPN work includes a recent collaborative initiative in the Equality & Diversity arena, with colleagues from the University of Surrey and the University of Wollongong presenting their work on addressing the challenges that universities face in achieving Equality & Diversity and some of the innovative programmes to tackle these challenges.

The conference closed with congratulations to Professor Raul Machado Neto, President of USP International Office, who takes over the role of Executive Chair of UGPN from outgoing Chair Professor Vince Emery, Senior Vice-President (Global) at Surrey. The UGPN looks forward to many more successful years of fostering collaboration between universities and generating real impact on a global scale.

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