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ACU Digital Now

Published on 19 June 2020

The ACU is changing fast. Digital Now is our commitment to ensuring that our vibrant global network continues to thrive not just in the short-term, while COVID-19 restricts global mobility and ways of working, but longer term too.

The sudden impact of coronavirus has made us all, wherever we are based, reassess our lives as we looked at skies without jet trails, focused on striving to keep communities safe and well, and reflected on supply chains and local and global economies. This crisis has exposed inequalities and made them more evident than ever. As universities have stepped up to the challenges of the pandemic, it is also clear that higher education is an essential part of the solution – that it is the key to healthier, wealthier, safer societies.

As a membership organisation supporting the voices of diverse universities across the globe, we know that international collaboration is the key to tackling global challenges, and that we need it now more than ever. Universities are crucibles for innovation and growth, and our networks and communities of practice help ensure that cross-cultural exchange is powered by members who are inspiring change.

Through ACU Digital Now, we are using digital solutions to cross borders, narrow divides, and create access and opportunity to foster change. Our vision is inclusive, participatory and wholly informed by our members.

In building ACU Digital Now, we reached out to our members and asked ‘What do you need and want?’ We listened and responded to requests to help convene spaces online where people can access each other’s knowledge. We mobilised with a series of webinars through May and June to help researchers, students, and professionals share information and find support. Our first four events were attended by nearly 800 participants – including students, vice-chancellors, academics and professional staff – from 40 countries. These will continue as numbers continue to swell.

We are providing vice-chancellors with roundtable gatherings where they can discuss and share approaches. We are creating virtual summer schools to connect students as part of an international classroom from afar – our first, in July, will focus on the needs of climate refugees. We are delivering thematic workshops on climate resilience, peace and reconciliation, and the Sustainable Development Goals – continuing to support universities in their efforts to tackle these global challenges. We are transforming our grants to support online engagement and access to data where costs are prohibitive.

Our aim with all of these is to provide spaces where participants can be creative – and playful – even while facing up to sobering new challenges. We want people to experience the benefits of international ‘travel’ and hear new perspectives, even while sitting in front of a screen.

To help ensure members’ voices are the heart of our work, we have geared up regional committees and local champions. We are investing in relationship management systems and data capture mechanisms focused on better serving and tailoring resources to members’ needs, and to provide evidence to measure and demonstrate impact.

We are introducing new video resources and training opportunities, and new platforms for member voices including The Internationalist, our podcast. The latest edition of The ACU Review, our biannual magazine, will focus on the work of our universities tackling public mental health – a timely theme in taxing times.

We are also working hard with other global university networks to advance our common causes. Our partnership with the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF), and the International Association of Universities (IAU) enables us to advocate for higher education at the highest level, drawing on our collective membership of more than 2,000 higher education institutions.

Alongside all this, underpinning our work, we have our scholarship and grant schemes. The thousands who have accessed these resources are the engine which keeps us firing; it is extraordinary to see how these opportunities have created global citizens who are the changemakers of today. Through ACU Digital Now we are reshaping this critical work to ensure that our community of members, partners and stakeholders continue to be able to access opportunities safely and usefully.

At heart, we remain the same: the ACU still believes in the power of higher education to lift lives. With Digital Now, we are merely reflecting the new needs of our times – more connected, more flexible, more responsive. For the foreseeable future, more digital now.