On 14 December 2021, Dr. Christopher Tremewan, Secretary General of APRU, gave the keynote address at a meeting of the international network of South American public universities, AUGM (Asociación de Universidades Grupo Montevideo). Based in Montevideo, Uruguay, the network includes 41 top public universities from Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Entitled “Regional International Networks: Collaboration for Global Impact”, Dr. Tremewan noted the potential areas for collaboration between the two networks (e.g. biodiversity and climate change, virtual student exchange) and set out the challenges that university networks will face in the years ahead.
Dr. Tremewan was invited to speak by Professor Eduardo Vera of The University of Chile who stated: “Regional academic networks in Asia and Latin America have common as well as different characteristics related to their specific cultures and socio-political realities, so it is always very valuable to exchange experiences and learn from each other.”
APRU and AUGM share a common focus on major aspects of internationalizing higher education including benchmarking for quality and collegial activities in education and research.
In the virtual interaction between AUGM and APRU under the theme Regional International Networks: Collaboration for Global Impact, Dr. Tremewan explained that when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he initially wondered whether APRU members would become so inwardly focused that they would draw back from thinking and acting collectively, but then the opposite happened.
“Instead, COVID-19 became a portal to the future; it gave us an unwelcome understanding of a truly global crisis and how quickly everything can change,” Dr. Tremewan said.
“It has starkly revealed what we knew already but have done too little about: inequality, racism, weak social and political institutions, elitism in education and, of course, the global catastrophe of future pandemics overlapping with climate change, which is right now putting the survival of the human species in doubt,” he added.
Dr. Tremewan highlighted that Asia Pacific universities were forced to drive faculty and students into virtual mode almost overnight, while they also had to contend with steep drops in funding due to the loss of international student fees and the difficulty of maintaining or winning research contracts.
He then explained that one of the first steps APRU took as a network to respond to that unprecedented situation was to set up a website, APRU Plus. The website provides a repository for the pandemic risk management strategies and policies of APRU members, facilitating the launch of more than 20 webinars by subject experts and knowledge partners to promote information exchange and experience sharing. These webinars charted ways forward on topics such as Public Health Crisis Management; a pandemic-related rise of Anti-Asian Hate; Teaching in Virtual Environments; Sustainable Waste Management; and University Advancement during the Pandemic (with CASE).
Dr. Tremewan also described how some of APRU’s programs that had previously been held in international meetings around the vast Asia Pacific region successfully moved their events into virtual mode. He listed the Asia-Pacific Women in Leadership Mentoring Program (APWiL) and the Asia-Pacific Mayor’s Academy on resilience and sustainability (with UNESCAP, UN Habitat, UNU, IGES) as examples.
Dr. Tremewan furthermore emphasized the importance of the APRU Virtual Student Exchange Program led by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. During the program’s pilot phase, 35 universities from 16 countries and territories participated in the academic courses with 32 universities offering 470 courses. There were more than 2600 applications and 1200 students enrolled. 17 APRU member universities contributed 73 co-curricular programs that attracted over 1,500 individual participations from students across the APRU network.
“These non-credit programs have been very popular and range from Cantonese cooking to virtual tours of the Galapagos islands, from how to be a change agent in sustainability to music jamming,” Dr. Tremewan pointed out.
The virtual interaction between AUGM and APRU was facilitated by Professor Eduardo Vera, the University of Chile’s Director of International Affairs and an APRU Senior International Leader.
Professor Vera welcomed Dr. Tremewan’s presentation for conveying some of APRU’s experience during the past 18 months to AUGM.
“APRU and AUGM both found that university leaders grasped opportunities to share the ways they were responding to the pandemic and to learn from each other,” Dr. Tremewan said.
“Virtual meetings became substantive forums for exchange of views and mutual support which were well-attended, with the crisis generating many common threats to their communities and similar administrative problems,” he added.