Maastricht University’s President Prof. dr. Martin Paul has completed his time as Chair of the Partnership Board at Worldwide Universities Network (WUN). He looks back on a time that really brought home the idea of global challenges.
The Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) is a global network driving international research collaboration and developing research talent. It comprises 23 research-intensive institutions spanning 13 countries and 6 continents, from Ghana to China, from Auckland to Bergen. Like UM, WUN seeks to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most significant challenges. UM became an official member in 2013. Our President Martin Paul began his two-year tenure as chair in 2018.
Academic prowess and relevant research breakthroughs notwithstanding, establishing UM’s profile within the network wasn’t always easy. “I remember when we convinced people to hold the annual conference here in Maastricht. The conference before had been in Hong Kong and the one after was to be in New York, so we had quite a laugh comparing the skylines. There was a bit of chuckling at first, but once they came here, they absolutely loved it!”
Good networks are important
Under Paul’s leadership, UM has joined WUN and the Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN). In addition, it has played a key part in setting up Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE), the highest-ranked alliance funded by the European Commission to develop the first model for a student-centred, non-elitist, open and inclusive European University.
While Paul is clearly enthusiastic about international collaboration, he hasn’t lost a certain critical distance and thinks it’s crucial to remain wary of inflation. “There are more and more university networks – and a lot of them focus just on reputation building and lobbying. It’s always been important to be selective. All our partnerships are based primarily on content and strategic goals – and we actively use them.”
Friends with benefits
WUN’s advantages are as obvious as they are impressive. Its research mobility programme provides opportunities for postgraduate and postdoctoral students to gain experience in an international context and broaden their professional networks. “Especially for younger researchers it’s a great opportunity to find and establish research collaborations. We provide seed funding so they can apply for further research grants.”
Through its Research Development Fund, WUN provides support to establish collaborative research that falls within four globally significant themes: Climate Change, Public Health, Global Higher Education and Research and Understanding Cultures – a significant overlap with UM’s research themes. Paul is particularly proud to have overseen Sustainability Development Goals’ move to the top of the research agenda.
International Classroom at the executive level
Paul particularly appreciates the advantages of exchanging best practices with other university leaders. “It gets a bit lonely at the top – but this was like an International Classroom at the executive level; and you realise that you’re not alone. Everyone has the same problems; no matter what it is, you almost always find someone else who is struggling with pretty much the same issue.”
In their discussion group “What keeps you up at night?”, WUN executives have open discussions about how to deal with crises. “I talked about the cyber-attack we suffered at the end of last year and how we dealt with it. We talked about the corona crisis a lot. Our sudden transition to online education was certainly made a bit easier by comparing protocols. It was especially useful to see how Hong Kong dealt with the situations, since they were several weeks ahead of us.”
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
WUN also served as the launchpad for closer ties with other members. “York is a good example. We initially became aware of them because they are also very strong in neuroimaging. Based on that research collaboration we got to know each other better and found that we are mirror images of each other in many ways, so we went ahead and established a deeper partnership within the network.”
The York-Maastricht Partnership has been established to formalise ways in which those two young universities can add to each other’s existing strengths. “We apply for funding together and we are establishing a double degree in sustainability. It’s a great university and very similar to us in a lot of ways – we are very happy to have developed this partnership, especially with an eye on Brexit and the impediments for uncomplicated structural cooperation that that might bring.”
Paul is happy with what he has achieved and in particular how the recent crisis seems to have deepened, not weakened the network. Paul hopes WUN will also become a more integral part of the partner institutions “So far, we’ve focused mostly on research but I would like to see more student exchanges. For example, on a faculty level it’s a challenge to get people interested and to really have a look at all the possibilities WUN offers.”
You can find out more about WUN and the opportunities it offers here. WUN continues its activities online, such as the new virtual network for early career researchers addressing the Sustainable Development Goals on 28 October.
UM President Prof. dr. Martin Paul