We are a part - a quarter, one might say - of a network of Universities spanning four continents, sometimes loosely referred to as the University of Four Continents or U4C. This network - with strategic partners Zhejiang University in China, University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, and the University of Campinas (Unicamp) in Brazil - is aimed at developing opportunities in research, in collaboration and in doctoral study, and it's a privilege for me to be able to work with a group of such prestigious partners. Up until a few days ago, my experience of the Network had been through a number of multi-party conference calls, which had enabled basic communication but not much else. From 14th-18th November I travelled to Unicamp with a delegation from Bath to the first U4C topical workshop around the topical area of ‘Sustainable Systems and Societies: energy, environment and policy frameworks’. The Bath delegation consisted of staff and doctoral students from across the institution, and we were matched by similar delegations from the partner organisations.
The meeting (held on the Unicamp campus) gave me a real flavour of the network: mixing with a range of academics and doctoral students in both academic and social situations really enabled me to appreciate the quality of the researchers at our partner institutions. The topical sessions - which took place over two full days - were great: wide-ranging but always engaging the whole audience. It was a well-chosen topic - important to everyone personally and significant in every discipline, but also manifesting in different ways for people in different places. One thing on my mind was the GCRF - how we might develop research with our partner institutions - combining our knowledge, our resources, our connections - to help some of the world's worst-off people. It became obvious during the meeting that our partner institutions share our commitment to working together, and that despite the differences in our national environments we all see reasons to make the network a success. This was apparent again at the network management meeting held alongside the conference, where the talk was all about how we can make the network thrive.
I returned proud of our University (the regard with which some of our researchers are held was obvious), but also excited about the network. I learned about research that was clearly globally leading from each of the partners, and became convinced that this mixture of partners is right for us. I also feel much more a part of the network, and have a better understanding of what is needed if we want to make it work for all of us. The members of U4C are our strategic partners, of course, and we work with them bilaterally all the time, but I now understand that one of the biggest challenges we face as a network is...making the teleconferencing technology work better across the four continents!