On May 20 – 21st, the tenth Aurora Biannual took place, where Aurora presidents, students and staff met to learn from and with each other.
The first day began with an opening plenary focusing on the future of academic collaboration between British and other European universities following Brexit. Ms Adrienn Kiraly, Head of the Cabinet to Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Education, Culture and Youth, touched upon our collaborations with other universities and said “Your alliance is already well placed to be a role model for other higher education institutions in Europe and beyond: Your association with three other higher education institutions in Bulgaria, Slovakia and North Macedonia as well as your commitment to developing a capacity development support programme for more than 30 Universities from Central Eastern Europe and neighbouring countries testify for this.” She also highlighted our collaborations with our students by saying: “ I am very happy to see that you have put in place the Aurora Student Champions Scheme in order to ensure student representation in each of your activities.”
During the plenary, Paul Boyle (Vice-Chancellor Swansea University and EUA Vice-President) outlined the 7 key points UK universities must address in order to advance in academic collaborations. One of these points is the need for a European wide funding system open to the world. He mentions that universities in the UK feel fortunate to be part of Horizon EU and participate in the vast majority of that scheme. However, there are many other countries from which they could gain value collaborating too. Karine Samuel (Vice President for International Affairs of Université Grenoble Alpes) stressed the importance of international collaboration and how the Aurora collaboration was especially useful in the pandemic by exchanging experiences and best practices with other Aurora universities. Ms Emily Reise from the University of Iceland added a students’ voice and emphasized the accessibility and mobility of students and sees the advantage of short term mobility experiences for students.
After lively parallel session presentations and dynamic conversations, we entered the virtual reception building where Jón Atli Benediktsson (Aurora Network President and Rector of the University of Iceland) welcomed the Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland, Lilja Alfredsdottir. Ms Alfredsdottir believes that the strength of Iceland lies in its international collaborations and that these collaborating networks have ensured that Icelandic research is truly global and ambitious. She says: “No single institution can tackle world challenges on its own but collaboration brings a strength that can be greater than the sum of its parts. With that in mind, the European Commission has focused its recent efforts in higher education on forming strong European University networks capable of producing internationally competent European students, European research, and European solutions”. Jón Atli introduced Ms Anne-May Janssen who will take over from Kees Kouwenaar as Secretary-General of Aurora from July 25th of this year. The reception also welcomed a comedy sketch by comedian Ari Eldjarn. Ari enthused the public with his charismatic interpretations of the many European cultures.
The second day continued with open parallel dissemination sessions and a wrap up of the reports and reflections. President of the Alliance Board Mirjam van Praag shared the accomplishments and challenges of the last 6 months. Among the achievements are the many courses that have been identified to be Aurorarized, a 2-year master program, an international traineeship program, a framework for mobility grant allocation, the 32 students engaged in the Aurora Student Champion Scheme and 15 student ambassadors. Next to accomplishments, Ms van Praag also shared a key concern about the involvement of academics in Aurora and integrating Aurorarized course into existing degree programs.
In total, 25 of Aurora’s active working groups and task teams met during the Biannual, and 7 dissemination sessions informed a wider Aurora audience on aspects of the Aurora programme of activities.
In the wrap-up, it was announced that it is the last term of Callum Perry, initiator of the Aurora student Champions Scheme and that his successor will be elected in the following months. And lastly, Maria José Figueras Salvat, Rector of Universitat Rovira i Virgili, announced that the fall biannual 2021 will physically be organized in Tarragona.