Dec 12 2022 | Posted by wun

Dawn Freshwater completes term as chair of Partnership Board


Professor Dawn Freshwater has concluded her term as chair of the Worldwide Universities Network partnership board. Her time at the helm saw the network address immense challenges brought on by the pandemic, and broaden its commitment to international engagement.

“Dawn’s deep understanding of what can be achieved through international partnership enabled her to see immediately how a network like WUN could help blunt the impact of the pandemic,” says Peter Lennie, executive director of WUN. “Her unwavering commitment to partnership energized several important WUN initiatives that helped sustain international collaborations and strengthen the network.”

“As institutions steeped in traditions of outward-looking, knowledge-seeking endeavors, universities in Australasia and everywhere else must hold fast to the importance of an international outlook,” wrote Freshwater in an opinion piece in Times Higher Education in 2020.

“While the pandemic has showcased the expertise that universities can offer governments, it has also underlined that this expertise is enhanced through researcher-to-researcher and university-to-university collaboration,” she continued. “And such collaborations do not simply emerge from our communities of science overnight. They are founded on years, sometimes decades, of international outlook and outreach.”

Forging connections among researchers and institutions took on new urgency as the pandemic began in 2020. In a message to WUN colleagues early in the pandemic, Dawn Freshwater and Martin Paul—her predecessor as chair of the Partnership Board—explained why international partnership was ever more important.

They wrote, “As major internationally oriented universities, we rely upon an open world that brings together institutions from East and West, North and South to form a global family, stimulating joint research, exchange, and social responsibility. In a time when not only mobility and exchange have been severely affected, but also when countries and continents are reinforcing borders and forcing lockdowns, our interaction has become more difficult, yet more valuable in ways that will bring us closer together. Why? Because although the issues we face are more or less identical, we have to deal with them in local contexts that differ greatly. This diversity makes WUN a rich source of comparative information on how best to solve the big problems with which all our member universities are challenged.”

During Freshwater’s tenure as chair, WUN responded to the challenges of the pandemic by offering funding for research on COVID’s effects on health, well-being, employment, and higher education, among other topics.

WUN also hosted a series of webinars for information exchange on solving crisis-driven problems related to education and research, and launched a pilot project on “virtual study abroad” for undergraduate students who would otherwise be unable to experience cultural exchange.

Freshwater’s commitment to internationalism, research collaboration for sustainable development, and equality in higher education and research is deeply held and longstanding and expressed in her leadership as vice chancellor of the University of Western Australia from 2017 to 2020 and now as vice chancellor of the University of Auckland since 2020.

As she noted in an interview when she started as vice chancellor at the University of Auckland in March 2020: “tertiary educators need to consider the role of their institution. We have a global civic responsibility and it’s really important to strike a balance between serving our communities, serving the region and the nation, but also serving the globe in terms of the SDGs.”

Freshwater’s work in those key areas sets the stage for her successor, Sandra Almeida, president of Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Brazil.