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UC Chile at Universitas 21: Building a Global Vision of Future Higher Education

UC Chile President Ignacio Sánchez, along with Vice Presidents Lilian Ferrer and Pedro Bouchon, made significant strides in strengthening the university's international presence at the annual U21 meeting at the University of Hong Kong. There, they unveiled a groundbreaking UC Chile program for inclusive international exchange and spearheaded a research initiative on climate change. The delegation further expanded collaboration opportunities by visiting the National University of Singapore, ultimately offering more opportunities to our university community.

Group of delegates participating in the U21 meeting, in a hall at the University of Hong Kong.

photo_camera UC Chile is the only South American member of the U21 network, made up of 29 universities from 19 countries on five continents. (Photo: Delegates participating in the annual U21 meeting)

Amidst the backdrop of Hong Kong's modern skyscrapers, beautiful parks, ancient temples, and remnants of its British colonial heritage, the presidents and senior executives comprising Universitas 21 convened under the theme "Global Universities and the Future Workforce." 

The network is made up of 29 universities from 19 countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, Japan, China, Singapore, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Chile. UC Chile is the only South American member.

“For our institution, it’s very important to actively participate in international collaboration networks, especially in U21, a platform that has allowed us to strengthen and enhance joint work with universities from five continents, providing a very rich and broad perspective on issues such as academic training, research, student exchange, and university management, among others," stated UC Chile President Ignacio Sánchez.

Universities Facing Global Challenges

A founding member of the U21 network, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) hosted the 2024 U21 Annual Meeting and Presidential Symposium from April 24th to 26th. Established in 1911, HKU has grown into a comprehensive university with ten faculties. It enrolls over 36,000 students, with nearly half coming from abroad. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023, HKU boasts a 67% international faculty, making it the world's most globally diverse university.

President Ignacio Sánchez participated in the panel discussion "Contemporary Social Tensions: Challenges for the University World". He was joined by the president of University College Dublin, Orla Feely; University of Johannesburg Vice Chancellor and Provost Letlhokwa Mpedi, and Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Queensland Deborah Terry. The discussion was moderated by Shearer West, chair of U21, and Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Nottingham.

The Presidential Symposium, held at Loke Yew Hall, a historic landmark within the University of Hong Kong's main building, featured keynote addresses from prominent figures. Jeff Sze, Under Secretary for Education at the Hong Kong Education Bureau, and Brian P. Schmidt, the esteemed astrophysicist and 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics, shared their insights.

The meeting itself focused on a critical question: how can universities adapt to a rapidly changing society and equip students with the tools they need to thrive in our ever-evolving digital world?

President Ignacio Sánchez participates in a panel along with other university rectors and presidents.
"Contemporary Social Tensions: Challenges for the University World" was the topic addressed in the panel in which President Ignacio Sánchez participated, together with his peers from the universities of Auckland, Glasgow, and Lund. (Photo credit: U21)

Four prestigious universities presented their case studies: National University of Singapore, “Preparing Graduates for the Future: Thriving Amidst Constant Change”; University of Auckland, “The Expansion of the University of Auckland's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre”; University of Glasgow,  "Transitioning from an L&T Ecosystem to a Classroom Ecopedagogy"; and Lund University, "Amplifying Student Voice in the Future of AI.”

In the President's Peer to Peer Meeting, the participants discussed the important role that universities play in addressing big societal issues. Discussions aimed to tackle complex everyday challenges such as AI, cybersecurity, information accessibility, demographic shifts, and freedom of expression, among other pressing issues.

"It's been really enlightening to hear how other universities from around the world are grappling with the major challenges in higher education, like artificial intelligence, global warming, and the rapid changes we’re experiencing as a global society. This meeting provides a very valuable opportunity to exchange experiences and generate new ties for the benefit of our university community," said President Sánchez.

More Inclusive International Exchange

The Vice President for International Affairs Lilian Ferrer participates in a panel along with other executives, presenting the innovative inclusive international mobility program of the UC Chile.
UC Chile Vice President for International Affairs Lilian Ferrer presented the inclusive international exchange program, which, for the first time, created vacancies for students from the PIANE UC and PACE programs. (Photo: U21)

Vice President for International Affairs Lilian Ferrer, along with the Vice President for Research Pedro Bouchon, also represented UC Chile in the Senior Management Workshop. 

The focus of this workshop was to discuss U21's commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and to share experiences, challenges, and successful strategies for leveraging the power of international partnerships to advance these values. 

Vice President Ferrer presented UC Chile's inclusive international exchange program as an innovative initiative. She stressed its potential impact, within U21 and beyond, as a model for other institutions to challenge traditional approaches to academic exchange and foster a broader change in mindset.

The initiative implements a novel model that includes, for the first time, reserved spots in international exchange programs for students with disabilities, through the Program for the Inclusion of Students with Special Needs (PIANE UC, as per its Spansih acronym), and students from the Program for Access to Higher Education (PACE, as per its Spansih acronym). Since its implementation in 2021, 24 students have benefited, and this number is expected to grow as 17 students are scheduled to benefit in 2024 and 38 students are signed-up for 2025. 

Robin Mason, the International Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, UK and Alison Butt, Director of the Office of Research Strategy at the University of New South Wales, Australia, also made presentations.

Climate Change: A Research Challenge

The Vice President for Research Pedro Bouchon leads the group of U21 research leaders and participates in a panel along with other university executives.
UC Chile Vice President for Research Pedro Bouchon is spearheading a project on addressing climate change as a research challenge in his role as chair of the U21 Research Leaders. (Photo: U21)

Vice President Pedro Bouchon is the chair of the Research Leaders group. In this capacity, he spearheads U21 Global Research together with Jonathan Morris, Director of Graduate Research at UNSW Sydney. They gave a presentation at this year’s annual meeting to present the accomplishments the group made in 2023.

“I talked about the project we want to carry out as a network, which aims to harness the distributed capacity of U21 worldwide to tackle a significant research challenge. We decided on this given the urgent need for climate change action. We believe that the multidisciplinary and multicultural approach of U21, which brings together leading research universities, will be instrumental in achieving our goals. Our objective for this year is to publish a document outlining the fundamental questions to be addressed. Representing UC Chile in this project are academics Sebastián Vicuña and Pablo Marquet from the UC Global Change Center," stated the Vice President for Research.

Joining Vice President Bouchon on the panel were Chairs Rachel Sandison, Student Experience Group (University of Glasgow, Scotland); Ian Holliday, Educational Innovation (University of Hong Kong); Jonathan Morris, Researcher Engagement (UNSW Sydney, Australia); and Peter Lievens, Senior Leader (KU Leuven, Belgium).

Award-Winning UC Chile Student

Image of student Rayén Alarcón projected during the award ceremony for U21 future leaders.
Rayén Alarcón was recognized with the Universitas 21 Leaders of the Future Award in the "current student" category. (Photo: U21)

During the second day of the presidential symposium, it was announced that UC Chile student Rocio Rayén Alarcón Lipin was selected as the winner of the Universitas 21 Leaders of the Future Award, a recognition that highlights the achievements of students who stand out in leadership initiatives promoting change, empowerment, and education worldwide.
She was honored in the "current student" category, with President Ignacio Sánchez accepting the certificate on her behalf. Additionally, a tree bearing her name will be planted in the U21 virtual forest.

Rayén Alarcón has a degree in Legal Sciences from the UC Law School, with experience as a peer tutor for students from indigenous peoples. She is the daughter of a Mapuche mother and a member of "Trawün Tinkuy", a Mapuche organization within the UC Chile, which promotes knowledge about the Mapuche, Aymara, Diaguita, and Lickanantay people through the presentation of their traditional dances, crafts, and the teaching of their languages. 

Within the framework of the efforts that UC Chile has made in recent years to have a university that values ​​and promotes interculturality, this initiative seeks to show and educate UC Chile students about their roots and ancestral cultures, highlighting them through effective education.

President Ignacio Sánchez receives the Rayén Alarcón student award on his behalf.
President Ignacio Sánchez receiving the award on behalf of student Rayén Alarcón. (Photo: U21)

Event Closure

On the last day, the Senior Management Meeting was held, chaired by Professor Peter Lievens, Vice Rector of International Policy and Interculturality of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. Reports were delivered on the Sustainability and Health Sciences steering groups. Additionally, projections were made for the next meeting in October 2024, on Global Education, and the Senior Management Meeting 2025.

Finally, the twenty-third Annual General Meeting of U21 was also celebrated, with all delegates present, to discuss administrative and organizational matters within the network. Topics covered included the selection of the host for the 2026 Annual General Meeting and financial accountability. Participants also had the chance to visit Tsz Shan Monastery, a Buddhist temple housing a 76-meter-high bronze statue of Guan Yin, and ascend Victoria Summit, known as The Peak, with spectacular views of downtown Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour, and the surrounding islands.

Collaboration Between HKU and UC Chile

In addition to being members of U21, UC Chile has collaborated with the University of Hong Kong since 2021 through a comprehensive bilateral agreement covering undergraduate and master's degree programs. Additionally, there's an agreement for undergraduate and doctoral internships with the School of Nursing. This collaboration has led to 26 UC Chile students participating in academic exchanges at HKU, while 19 HKU students have come to UC Chile. Additionally, the universities have jointly published over 850 publications in the last decade.

Strengthening Ties with Singapore

President Ignacio Sánchez receives a medal and a gift from the president of the National University of Singapore.
President Ignacio Sanchez with NUS President Tan Eng Chye. (Photo credit: NUS)

President Ignacio Sánchez visited Singapore, at the invitation of the National University of Singapore (NUS), to enhance ties and broaden collaboration between the two universities. This collaboration dates back to 2023, with two agreements, one for general cooperation and another for undergraduate and master's degree exchanges. This collaboration has resulted in an exchange of 10 and 11 students to and from UC Chile, respectively, and a total of 69 joint publications.

Established in 1905 as a medical school with just 23 students, this university is the oldest educational institution in Singapore. It currently boasts over 43,000 students, with over 31,000 pursuing undergraduate degrees and just over 12,000 enrolled in graduate programs. It offers a diverse array of academic pathways, including 69 undergraduate programs and 219 master's and doctoral programs, across its 17 faculties. It is currently ranked No. 1 in Asia and No. 8 in the QS World University Rankings 2024.

According to President Sánchez, "It’s a great opportunity for our university community to strengthen ties with this leading university in Asia that’s at the forefront in technology, R&D, innovation and health, among others."

The visit had a full agenda that included a meeting with Assistant Vice President for Global Relations Lum Sau Kim; a visit to the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore (TCOMS), a national R&D center dedicated to the marine and maritime sectors, where he was welcomed by Chan Eng Soon, CEO of the Center; a lunch with the NUS President and authorities; and a tour of the Kent Ridge Campus.

The tour included the NUS Enterprise @ Singapore Science Park, Singapore's first deep technology center, which aims to foster a start-up community and connect companies with NUS' talents, research capabilities and technologies. While there, President Sanchez met with Brian Koh, Director of NUS Enterprise, and Jeremy Yap, Director of the NUS Overseas Colleges Program (NOC). On the occasion, he also met with NOC students who are scheduled to participate in exchange programs at UC Chile next August.  The meeting was attended by the Ambassador of Chile in Singapore, Ignacio Concha; the Deputy Chief of Mission, Marco Navarro; and the Consul of the Embassy of Chile in Singapore, Francisco Montalva.

President Ignacio Sánchez poses with a student from the National University of Singapore during a tour of the university's campus.
President Sanchez during his tour of the National University of Singapore. (Photo credit: NUS)

The next day, the visit continued at the Centre for Healthcare Simulation at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, where the President met with Suresh Pillai, Director of the Simulation Center. Later, he visited theEngineering Design and Innovation Centre (EDIC) and met with its director, Dr. Yen Shih-Cheng. This center was established in 2009 to provide students with comprehensive training in design and engineering and drive innovation in the industry. President Sanchez also visited the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), where he met with its CEO, Dr. Thomas Reindl.

According to President Ignacio Sánchez: "Our visit to the National University of Singapore has been highly productive, especially considering the collaboration agreement we signed at last year's U21 annual meeting in Australia. I want to emphasize the continuous support and collaboration from NUS President Tan Eng Chye, which has already led to several student exchange initiatives. In fact, I recently met with a group of students who will soon be visiting UC Chile."

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