In this edition

A message from Martin Paul and Dawn Freshwater

Dear colleagues,

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our institutions, as well as our daily lives, both professionally and personally. Like many other sectors, higher education is facing one of the biggest crises of the last decades. Universities have had to change their educational offer to an online environment, have had to empty research labs as well as student residences, and are concerned about future student numbers and about their finances. These challenges hit at the very core of our identity as internationally engaged campus universities with strong research profiles. COVID-19 has forced us rapidly and painfully to address how we remain viable in a changed environment that might last for months or years or become, as some have suggested, the new normal.

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. For example, several universities have been able to benefit from the experience of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which was one of the earliest hit by the crisis and switched to online education swiftly and effectively.

WUN has taken up the challenge presented by COVID-19, and has launched several initiatives outlined in Peter Lennie’s note in this newsletter, including a special research fund for COVID-related projects, a series of webinars for information exchange on solving crisis-driven problems related to education and research, and a pilot project on ‘virtual study abroad.’ Additional initiatives will be developed as needs arise.

These initiatives and resulting actions demonstrate how our network, through its potency as an ecosystem for exchange, can make us stronger in crisis and help us become more resilient. WUN may even have the chance to become a truly global university.

We are convinced that the WUN community will weather this storm and that we will come out of it stronger as a network.

Please contact us if you have any questions or suggestions.

With very best wishes,

Martin Paul
Outgoing chair
Dawn Freshwater
Incoming chair

About this edition

We had intended this edition of the newsletter as an introduction to our 2020 AGM in Monterrey, which sadly will not take place ( AGM 2021 will take place in Monterrey from 17–21 May ). A major theme planned for this year’s meeting was to illustrate and further develop WUN’s initiatives in the area of Climate Action. In keeping with that, the research articles here highlight diverse work on how we might respond to climate change, and illustrate the richness of the research supported by the network.

WUN remains responsive in the face of our many global challenges. While member universities grapple with the disruption caused by the pandemic, WUN has taken several steps to help them mitigate some of its effects:

  • We have instituted a special grants program to support collaborative research projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and whose value depends on being able to collect or analyse data obtained immediately.
  • We have organized webinars for sharing information about the challenges in responding to the pandemic and how they were addressed, in both education and research. The first of these, held on 5 May, focused on student mental health. Subsequent webinars will cover such topics as the move to massive online education, and restarting research, among others.
  • With student mobility likely to be restricted for at least the next year, we are developing a pilot program for ‘virtual study abroad,’ through which undergraduates at participating member universities will join the same online classes, and participate in projects in teams drawn from different countries.

We are delighted to announce that the University of Lausanne has joined WUN. More details and a formal announcement will follow soon.

This is WUN’s 20th year. While we could not have imagined the events that have overtaken us in 2020, the strength of our network, built over two decades, equips us well to navigate the turbulence together and to help the world overcome the enormous challenges that now face it.

Peter Lennie, Executive Director


Trauma, climate change, and maternal health: increasing impacts, trans-generational effects


Accumulated stressors are known to have a major impact on maternal and child health during and following pregnancy, increasing the likelihood of preterm birth. With early delivery come greater risks for mother and child and health implications over the course of the child’s life. Women in marginalised communities are often especially vulnerable to a range of interacting stressors, stressors that are multiplying with climate change. As Professor David Olson (University of Alberta) put it: “the trans-generational impact of trauma is real and the burden accumulates.” Read our feature on why he is advocating for more research on the impact of climate change on maternal and child health.

Read the Full Story

Climate-induced migration: new consortium to bring interdisciplinary insights


A recent ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee, which stated that people cannot be sent back to countries where climate change impacts place them in immediate danger, was treated by many commentators as a landmark protection for environmental migrants. Yet legal frameworks and international displacement are only part of the picture, cautions Professor Andreas Neef (University of Auckland) in this story. Professor Neef is leading a consortium, launched with WUN 2019 RDF funding, to advance interdisciplinary research into climate-induced migration. It aims to help improve policies through a better understanding of the complex drivers of migration and displacement associated with climatic changes.

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Cheap, consistent, clean? Changing the models for sustainable electricity access


Universal access to “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy” is the target set by UN Sustainable Development Goal 7. Typically, planning models have emphasised the first of those concerns: affordability. “The classic way of modelling electrification is to minimise costs,” explained Professor Erin Baker (University of Massachusetts Amherst). But consultations with electricity users have revealed a range of competing priorities, highlighting the need to integrate social benefits and trade-offs into planning models. Read more from Professor Baker and Dr Samuel Atarah (University of Ghana) of the SEN-Africa research group on their findings from stakeholder consultations in northern and southern Ghana.

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Mobilising around mobility: unique WUN collaboration to study wellbeing and sustainable transport


Transportation accounts for significant energy consumption, as well as causing emissions, air and noise pollution. In countries such as Britain and the United States, transport is the largest contributor (narrowly followed by electricity generation) to greenhouse gas emissions. Recognition is increasing of the health impacts that arise from transport choice for the individual and for the planet, shaping initiatives to develop and promote cleaner transport. Read more here about how a new WUN group led by Associate Professor Sylvia Ying He (Chinese University of Hong Kong) is examining the implications of mobility choices for health and wellbeing.

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African landscapes facing climate change: using an integrated approach to mitigate impacts


Co-production and capacity building have become key approaches for the research group on Climate Resilient African Landscapes, supported by the Research Development Fund in 2019. Their research works at a landscape level to generate complex insights into the multiple and at times competing uses and meanings of land and place. As Professor Sheona Shackleton (University of Cape Town) explains, it explores how “people’s stories, their connection to the landscape, the history of that and their place attachment” can shape climate change mitigation and adaptation. In this story we share the foundations and approaches that Professor Shackleton and colleagues have established to date.

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Climate and shock: resilience in food production systems after COVID-19


The number of people facing acute food insecurity in 2020 could reach 265 million due to the impacts of COVID-19, almost double the number of people from 2019, according to the World Food Programme. Professor Mark Eisler (University of Bristol) anticipates the effects will be felt most strongly in the global South: “We are likely to see changes in farming systems resulting from this,” he argues, “and while the impacts of the coronavirus crisis are yet to be fully known, there are huge stresses on these systems already appearing.” This story explores how climate-conscious farming could help develop more resilient systems with research from the Global Farm Platform.

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Mental health and COVID-19: how WUN universities are supporting their students


As the COVID-19 pandemic has emptied many university campuses, pushed more teaching online, cut off access to laboratories and libraries, and changed the way staff and students interact, amongst the many impacts yet to be fully understood are the implications of this period on student mental health. Students are navigating the threats and pressures of the crisis – such as health threats, financial instability, and the wellbeing impacts of isolation – while also dealing with major disruptions to their education. In this special feature, members of the WUN Working Group on Student Mental Health discuss the state of student wellness and share what their universities have been doing to support students in this extraordinary time.

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WUN Research Mobility Program: ideas in motion


Linkages through the Worldwide Universities Network enable research that spans disciplinary boundaries, political and social cultures, and geographical settings. This feature introduces two early-career researchers and explains how WUN connections and their participation in the Research Mobility Program advanced their work: Colin Chu, who established a collaboration to image the eye with scientists at the University of Rochester, and Victoria Rivera Ugarte, who added comparative insights to her social policy studies through a visit to the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Click through to read more about their discoveries and the pathways they opened up for future research.

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Announcement: University of Lausanne joins WUN


We are delighted to announce that the University of Lausanne has joined the Worldwide Universities Network.

More details will follow soon.


WUN members again feature strongly in Times Higher Education Impact Ranking


University of Auckland tops the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Ranking for the second consecutive year. The University of Sydney appears second, with a further four WUN members ranked in the top 100.

The rankings focus on how the global higher education sector is working towards 11 of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and acknowledges the fundamental role universities have in implementing the SDGs through their teaching, research, operations and leadership.


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